Sarraj at the Concordia Forum: Between Fact and Fiction – Al Marsad

Pro-Government of National Accord (GNA) officials and aligned news outlets and media platforms, as well as the GNA-aligned militias and armed groups, celebrated the participation of Fayez al-Sarraj on the sidelines of the annual UN General Assembly meetings in an event in New York with those described by his Media Bureau as “representatives of US oil and investment companies.” However, the facts which have emerged on Sarraj’s participation at the Concordia Forum, may cause some inconvenience to the supporters of the Tripoli-seated Presidential Council of the GNA, and will certainly raise question marks among observers of Libyan affairs.

[Libya, 13 October 2019] – The meeting was described as if the event attended by the President of the Tripoli-seated Presidential Council was of great interest to the US and its companies. In fact the event was organized by a PR firm that receives fees for its services, meaning that one of the parties to the meeting may have not sought it at all.

During the event, which was attended by Fayez Sarraj, and published by the Media Bureau of the Presidential Council of the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, the name of APCO appeared on the background banner—a US public affairs and strategic communications consultancy that promotes the interests of its foreign customers in the United States.

It was also found that Jonathan M. Winer, former US Special Envoy for Libya, who attended the meeting, is currently Senior Counselor of the International Advisory Council of APCO Worldwide. Winer has been severely criticized by members of the Libyan House of Representatives (HoR) of consistent bias towards the Presidential Council of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) and the Skhirat Libyan Political Agreement during his tenure.

Both Tarek Yousef al-Magariaf and Jonathan Winer are part of APCO.

On the other hand, a member of the Central Bank of Libya Board of Trustees, Tarik M. Yousef Al Megarief, is also a Member of the Advisory Board of APCO Worldwide. He was previously the Chief Executive Officer of the Doha-based Silatech. Sheikha Moza is the consort of the former Emir of the State of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, and mother of the incumbent ruler, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, and also the Chairperson of the Board of Trustees of Silatech.

Although it is not yet known whether or not the Tripoli-based Presidential Council has concluded a contract with APCO, the Presidential Council had, however, already signed on 22 April a contract worth US$1.8 million, or US$ 150,000 per month, with Mercury Public Affairs, a lobbying public relations’ company. The Vice Chairman of the Presidential Council, Mr. Ahmed Maiteeq had also signed a similar lobbying contract with Prime Policy Group in May, but it remains unclear whether the undisclosed value of the contract had been approved by the Libyan Audit Bureau in Tripoli.

Mr. Ali Mahmoud Hassan Mohamed, the Chairman and Chief Executive of the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA) based in Tripoli, who was previously arrested on corruption charges by the Special Deterrence Force (RADA), had also signed a contract with a US public relations and law firm to defend the interests of LIA.

Fayez al-Sarraj’s meeting with “representatives of US oil and investment companies” took place at the sidelines of the Concordia Forum in which he was given ten minutes to talk from 4:35 to 4:45 according to the time allocated for the participating speakers. However Sarraj exceeded his allotted time, according to the video recording, by about half an hour at the expense of the time given for the next two guest speakers; one was representing a technology company and was allocated five minutes for his speech, while the second guest speaker came from the State of Qatar, and was allocated 20 minutes. Sarraj’s speech delayed the Forum.

Sarraj was hosted in the evening of the first day of the Forum. The session was dedicated to a discussion on “Digital Transformation of Governments and How Governments Serve All People Everywhere”. However Sarraj’s Media Bureau said that the panel was about Libya. This was clearly not the case.

CONTRACT WITH MERCURY PUBLIC AFFAIRS

In May 2019, the influential American news platform, Politico, published a report on lobbying and public relations firms in the United States. The report referred to a contract signed by the Chairman of the Presidential Council, Fayez al-Sarraj, with Mercury in the hope of securing a position from the US Administration of President Donald Trump in favor of his GNA.

It hired the lobbying and communications company Mercury and awarded it with a contract worth $150,000 a month as part of a year-long US$1.8 million contract to lobby decision makers and influential circles at both the US Congress and the Trump Administration.

According to Politico, Beth DeFalco, a managing director at Mercury lobbying and communications firm, facilitated the publication of an Op-Ed by the Head of the Tripoli-seated GNA, Mr. Fayez al-Sarraj, in an unspecified media platform. However, the news platform that published the edited form of Sarraj’s Op-Ed turned out to be the Wall Street Journal. In his article, Sarraj appealed to the US Administration of President Donald Trump for assistance.

The report was based on a contract signed by Beth DeFalco to work for the GNA and attested by FARA of the Department of Justice, as required by US law, which compels these companies to disclose their contracts with their foreign clients. Al Marsad obtained a copy of the contract signed on 28 April 2019, while the Wall Street Journal published Mr. Fayez Al-Sarraj’s Op-Ed on 9 May, almost 10 days after Mercury Public Relations received the first payment of US$150,000.

Sarraj article in the Wall Street Journal, dated 10 May 2019.

WALL STREET JOURNAL OP-ED

Beth DeFalco, retweeted Fayez al-Sarraj’s Op-Ed on her official Twitter account. It was clear that the retweet was part of her work at the firm. It is believed that the publication of the Op-Ed was not apparently due to its content or the reputation of the writer as argued by some local media loyal to the Government of National Accord. The Op-Ed was the result purely of a pre-paid work from the Libyan public treasury to a US public relations company.

According to Politico, in the Op-Ed, Sarraj appealed to President Donald Trump, “who unexpectedly reversed American policy in Libya in April by endorsing Khalifa Haftar,” for help. He wrote, “To prevent a bloody civil war with global implications, Libya needs the U.S. to help stop other countries from meddling in our affairs. I remain hopeful that President Trump will succeed where previous presidents have failed, and that he will use his power to create peace, stability, and security in Libya and the wider region.”

It should be noted, in this context, that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan frequently contributes his Op-Eds to the same newspaper.

A HEFTY PUBLIC RELATIONS CONTRACT

The American media platform specialized in Middle East affairs, Al-Monitor, confirmed that the Tripoli Government of National Accord had concluded hefty contract with Mercury Public Relations to pressure both the US Congress and President Donald Trump Administration, just days after reports that the US President supported Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, an opponent of the GNA.

The Tripoli-based Government of National Accord signed a one-year contract with Mercury Public Relations firm on 25 April, days after reports that the US President Donald Trump showed support for Field Marshal Haftar’s operation in Tripoli by announcing a phone call earlier in April. The disclosure of this contract is a logical explanation of what the Muslim Brotherhood media channels and platforms, such as Libya Panorama Satellite Channel, tried to promote on Wednesday about an imminent change in the positions of both the United States and the International Community, citing, as usual, unnamed sources.

The Director of the Office of Mr. Fayez al-Sarraj, Youssef al-Mabrouk, signed on behalf of the Government of National Accord. However, the question arises on to what domestic legal precedent allows him to obtain such funds and use them for such purposes in contravention of the financial laws of the Libyan state.

Sarraj appointed al-Mabrouk as Vice Chairman of the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA) last February, which also raises the additional question mark about the possibility of having utilized the LIA funds for the benefit of a public relations company.

 

These documents revealed that the value of the contract would be divided into paying US$500,000 each quarter for fees and expenses, with the first instalment being paid in advance. On this issue, neither Mercury nor the GNA responded to requests for comment from Al-Monitor, but experts say that the exorbitant contract is a sign of abuse. It was also clear that the GNA was deeply concerned about the possibility of the US diverting from the UN-supported operation in favor of Haftar.

A former senior US official involved in Libya told Al-Monitor that Mercury first approached the Government of National Accord (GNA) as a potential client in 2016 through Libya’s ambassador to Washington, Wafa Bughaighis. However, the GNA rebuffed Mercury because of high costs, as al-Sarraj discussed appointing a special envoy to the United States.

“The Libyans always wait until they’re forced into a panic zone and then they look for alliances. Mercury was on their radar, and when this happened they realized they needed some avenues to get to people,” the official told the al-Monitor.

According to Politico, “A former top Republican fundraiser embroiled in charges of influence-peddling has accused an executive at Mercury Public Affairs of participating in a criminal conspiracy to disseminate his hacked emails to prominent media outlets in a lawsuit filed in Washington.” It seems there is no proven record of influential lobbying amid the aforementioned alleged misconduct during a PR campaign. While the total deals signed throughout 2017 with 49 customers did not exceed US$ 1.8 million, the firm succeeded in one transaction, to conclude a contract with one client (the Tripoli Government of National Accord) worth approximately US$ 2 million.

Al Marsad previously referred to another contract that was concluded by the Vice-Chairman of the Tripoli-based Presidential Council, Mr. Ahmed Maiteeq, with Prime Policy Group as a foreign agent promoting the Tripoli government’s interests with both the US Congress and President Donald Trump Administration.

© Al Marsad English (2019)

FURTHER LINKS

Sarraj pays thousands of dollars to get Op-Ed published in US