Saudi Arabia’s $400 billion sovereign wealth fund has signed a pair of contracts worth a combined $2.7 million with New York CEO advisory fund Teneo Strategy as it looks to inspire investor confidence amid lingering criticism of the country’s policies.
The contracts aim to help position the Public Investment Fund (PIF) as “a sophisticated global investment organization with a solid track record and a targeted investment strategy,” according to a new filing under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
Teneo is not expected to lobby the US government but will instead focus on crisis response, media relations and online content creation for the Saudi instrument that is leading efforts to transform the oil-dependent kingdom into a high-tech economy of the future. The firm acquired a stake in Secretary of State Antony Blinken‘s former consultancy WestExec Advisors earlier this year.
The PIF board is chaired by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who has attracted international opprobrium over the murder of dissident Jamal Khashoggi and the Saudi intervention in Yemen. The negative attention has fueled investor skittishness and led human rights advocates to target the PIF itself following this year’s revelation that it owned two jets used to ferry Khashoggi‘s killers to Istanbul, where he was killed in the Saudi consulate.
The new contract comes as International Financing Review reported this week that the PIF has hired five banks international banks for advice on attracting investors focused on environmental, governance and social (ESG) investments. PIF governor Yasir al-Rumayyan has set a target of having $2 trillion in assets under management by 2030, which would make it the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund.
“It’s not just a big pot of money,” Robert Mogielnicki, a resident scholar at the US Gulf States Institute in Washington focusing on political economy, told Foreign Lobby Report in an interview earlier this year. “It’s really connected to a number of high-profile economic development initiatives across the kingdom.”
Teneo joins KARV Communications of New York as a registered foreign agent for the PIF. Karv has had a $120,000-a-month contract to “enhance the reputation and image” of the fund and its senior executives since February 2019.
And Teneo itself also represents the Neom Company, the PIF-owned entity that is building a $500 billion futuristic megacity that is the crown jewel of Prince Mohammad’s Vision 2030 plan to transform the country’s economy. Neom faces its own reputational woes, including reports of forced displacements.
Teneo signed a $2.1 million contract in 2019 to create a “strategic positioning plan” for Neom CEO Nadhmi al-Nasr and handle crisis management and communications. PIF also has a $1.7 million contract with New York PR firm Ruder Finn to promote its corporate social responsibility efforts.
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The contracts mark Teneo’s first new FARA registration since CEO Declan Kelly resigned in June over inappropriate behavior with female guests at a charity event. The firm has registered eight people as foreign agents on the account:
- Senior vice president Michael Osborne;
- Senior managing director Padraic Riley;
- Senior managing director Jeff Sindone;
- Senior managing director Stephen Cohen;
- Managing director Melissa Jane Mackreath;
- Senior associate Luke Gregory Devlin;
- Associate Emily Johns; and
- Analyst Matthew Brunstad.