- US forces Hong Kong newspaper to register as foreign agent
- Houston refiner Citgo registers to lobby against Venezuela’s creditors
- New York PR firm discloses Egypt work
- USTR threatens Ethiopia trade benefits after pro-Tigray lobbying push
- Ex-Trump adviser Bennett under investigation for Qatar work against UAE
- Thai biotech company hires former Arkansas politician for drug exports
Welcome to Foreign Lobby Report’s biweekly roundup of all the latest lobbying developments. Every week we go through dozens of filings under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) and the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) to offer our readers the most comprehensive snapshot anywhere of the foreign governments, political groups and businesses trying to influence US policymaking and public opinion.
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New lobbying filings
Equatorial Guinea: Qorvis / MSLGroup Americas has registered public relations interns William Sadler and Amogh Rao as foreign agents for Equatorial Guinea. The firm has represented the country since 2009, initially as a subcontractor to Cassidy and Associates. The current contract is for $37,500 per month. The new registrations come as the Joe Biden administration is taking Equatorial Guinea to court to enforce a $19.5 million anti-kleptocracy settlement against Vice President Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, the son of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo.
Venezuela: The US subsidiary of Venezuela’s national oil company and its Houston-based refiner Citgo have registered as foreign agents as they press the Joe Biden administration to protect the US assets of Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) from the South American country’s creditors. PDV Holding Inc., Citgo Holding Inc. and the Citgo Petroleum Corporation have all registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) as agents of the PDVSA’s ad hoc board, which is controlled by allies of opposition leader Juan Guaido. According to their registrations, the three entities intend to interact with US government officials and American media “to advocate for a resolution to various creditor claims against the Government of Venezuela and/or its subsidiaries … in an effort to protect [their] assets from seizure or diminution in value by creditors of the Maduro regime.”
The registrations come as Washington law firm Davis Goldberg & Galper registered last week as a foreign agent of the PDVSA board and Citgo in their intensifying feud with Venezuela’s creditors. The firm signed a $40,000-per-month contract with Citgo for “legal advice and services” after a US judge in January approved the sale of shares in Citgo’s parent company to pay Canadian gold miner Crystallex a $1.4 billion judgment for expropriation of its assets.
Dozens of other individuals and companies also have pending claims against PDV Holding Inc. The US Treasury Department has so far blocked the sale of shares because unwinding Citgo, Venezuela’s most valuable asset abroad, would be a huge blow to Guaido, to whom the Donald Trump administration transferred control of Citgo.
China: A major Hong Kong media company has registered its US operations under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) after being told to by the US Department of Justice. Sing Tao US registered as a foreign agent of Sing Tao News Corporation effective Aug. 20, the latest target of the US government’s crackdown on perceived Chinese influence operations in the United States. The company publishes newspapers in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco and runs a radio station in California. CEO Robin Mui and director Hui Ting Kwok also individually registered under FARA.
In its filing, Sing Tao US describes itself as “editorially independent” of its parent company, which is publicly traded on the Hong Kong stock exchange. “The Sing Tao US entities believe that they are similarly situated to other for-profit media companies operating in the United States,” the registration states. “The Department of Justice’s FARA Unit has concluded that this constitutes political activity for purposes of the FARA.”
The registration comes as the Department of Justice has been increasingly weighing on media companies from China and other countries with limited press freedom to register under FARA. Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua and China Global Television Network (CGTN) registered earlier this year and in 2019, respectively. China Daily, which publishes the global edition of the Chinese Communist Party’s English-language newspaper, registered as a foreign agent in 1983.
Timeline of recent foreign media registrations in the United States
Aug. 20, 2021
Hong Kong newspaper group Sing Tao registers US operations under FARA.
May 5, 2021
Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua registers as a foreign agent, years after first being told to by the US Department of Justice.
Oct. 21, 2020
The US State Department designates six Chinese media outlets as “foreign missions”: Yicai Global, Jiefang Daily, Xinmin Evening News, Social Sciences in China Press, Beijing Review and Economic Daily.
Sept. 14, 2020
The US Department of Justice requires AJ+ to register as a foreign agent of the government of Qatar. AJ+ had yet to comply as of August 2021.
Sept. 14, 2020
Washington production company Ghebi registers as a foreign agent of Russia’s state-run Rossiya Segodnya news agency.
June 22, 2020
The US Department of State designates four Chinese media outlets as “foreign missions”: China Central Television, China News Service, the People’s Daily, and the Global Times
May 21, 2020
The China Daily Distribution Corp. discloses for the first time how much it spends to publish the Chinese Communist Party’s China Daily alongside US newspapers.
March 12, 2020
Feb. 24, 2020
The US Department of State designates five Chinese media outlets as “foreign missions.” They are : Xinhua; China Global Television Network (CGTN); China Radio International; China Daily Distribution Corporation; and Hai Tian Development USA.
Pakistan: Mohammad Akram Mirza of Hempstead, New York, Qamar Zaman Khan of San Francisco and Abdul Hafeez Khan of Ontario have registered as foreign agents of Pakistan’s ruling Pakistan Movement for Justice (Pakistan Tehreek-e-insaf, or PTI).
South Korea: Cornerstone Government Affairs has registered principals Joe Barton, a former aide to former House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), and Tyler Nelson, a former chief of staff to then-Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas), as foreign agents for South Korea. The firm has represented the Korean Embassy in Washington since 2017 and is paid $280,00 a year to promote a professional visa initiative incentive for Korean nationals to work in the United States.
South Korea: West Wing Writers terminated its registration on behalf of South Korea’s Gangwon province in April, according to a new lobbying filing. The northeastern province bordering North Korea hired the Washington PR firm in March for $10,600 to assist in drafting an op-ed on “peace in the Korean peninsula” for US audiences. Three-term Gov. Choi Moon-soon, has long called for the resumption of cross-border tourism, including to the revered site of Mount Kumgang, which ended in 2008 after North Korean guards shot a tourist dead.
West Wing is staffed by veterans of the Bill Clinton and Barack Obama administrations and led by managing partner Vinca Lafleur, a longtime Democratic speechwriter. The firm’s point of contact on the account was Nadia Cho, the CEO of Jeong Culture and Communication in New York, who serves as a liaison between Korean government agencies and US chefs.
Egypt: New York public relations firm Marathon Strategies has belatedly registered as a foreign agent of the Egyptian government for work pitching op-eds to US media in April and May. The firm was working as a subcontractor for Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, which signed a $65,000-a-month contract with the Egyptian Embassy in November days after Joe Biden won last year’s election. Marathon Vice President Joshua Rosen and Managing Director Philip Singer worked on the account. The firm was to be paid hourly rates that have yet to be disclosed.
Saudi Arabia: Mercury Public Affairs has registered Louis Rynsard and Miran Hassan, respectively a director and senior associate in the firm’s London office, on its account with DGT of ME, which represents the interests of imprisoned Saudi royals and businessmen. Former Rep. Toby Moffett (D-Conn.), a co-chairman of Mercury’s Washington office, reached out to several US Democratic lawmakers this spring to invite them to join their European counterparts at a panel in Europe next month to highlight the kingdom’s crackdown on perceived rivals and critics of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Yemen: The representative of Yemen’s separatist Southern Transitional Council in New York, Alkhader Nasr Sulaiman, has registered as a foreign agent. He is expected to meet with members of the UN Security Council, Yemen experts, non-governmental organizations and the media. The council opened a New York office last year to reach out to the UN in addition to its presence in Washington.
Thailand (Taiwei Biotech International): Bangkok biotech firm Taiwei Biotech International has hired Asian American Advisors of Fayetteville, Arkansas to lobby on ” exporting pharmaceutical products.” Former Arkansas state senator Michael Lamoureux is registered to lobby on the account.
United Arab Emirates (Mashreqbank): Edelman has added Director of Financial Communications Simon Hailes in Abu Dhabi to its international PR contract with Mashreqbank, the UAE’s oldest privately owned bank.
Caught our eye
Ethiopia: US Trade Representative Katherine Tai warned Ethiopian Chief Trade Negotiator Mamo Mihretu on a virtual call Wednesday that Ethiopia risks losing its eligibility for trade benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) if human rights abuses continue in Tigray. The warning was immediately applauded by Washington lobbying firm Von Batten-Montague-York, which previously lobbied for the Tigray Center for Information and Communication advocacy group in Virginia and registered last month to lobby for the suspension of trade benefits for Ethiopia.
Qatar: Republican lobbyist and former Donald Trump campaign adviser Barry Bennett is the latest Washington insider to come under scrutiny from the Department of Justice for alleged unregistered foreign advocacy, the Wall Street Journal reports. Bennett is reportedly under investigating for secretly setting up and funding the US-based advocacy group Yemen Crisis Watch to embarrass Qatari rivals the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia without disclosing its ties to the government of Qatar, which paid his firm Avenue Strategies about $3 million for lobbying work between July 2017 and July 2018. The revelation comes a month after former Trump adviser Tom Barrack was arrested and charged for secretly lobbying for the UAE against Qatar.
President Joe Biden has tapped former Finsbury Glover Hering (previously the Glover Park Group) partner Elizabeth Allen to serve as assistant secretary of State for global public affairs. The firm represents the United Arab Emirates, Ecuador, Argentina, Ivory Coast, Somaliland, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky‘s party.