Keeping it in the Family: Darrat Signs a Contract with Mercury Public Affairs on Behalf of the GNU – Al Marsad

Earlier this month, the interim Government of National Unity (GNU) signed a US$2 million contract with the public relations and lobbying firm, Mercury Public Affairs, according to the information published by the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) of the US Department of Justice. However, this contract along with series of other events and decisions, shed light on the rise of the National Front Party(NFSL), which is affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood, and how Islamists are once again penetrating key joints of the Libyan state.

A copy of the contract between Mercury and the GNU, represented by Mohamed Ali Abdullah al-Darrat.

(Libya, 18 April 2021) – The interim Government of National Unity (GNU) signed a US$2 million contract with the public relations and lobbying firm, Mercury Public Affairs, on 7 April this month. The signatory on behalf of the interim Government of National Unity (GNU) for the contract with Mercury was the Libyan-American Mohamed Ali Abdullah al-Darrat.

AL-DARRAT: A MAN FOR ALL POSTS

Al-Darrat is the current head of the National Front Party, and he was recently appointed by the governor of the Central Bank of Libya (CBL), Siddiq al-Kabir, as the head of the Libyan Foreign Bank’s (LFB) management committee, and also assigned by Dbaiba as the government’s Special Envoy to the United States. This means that the appointment issued by Fayez al-Sarraj continues with the new government in addition to his new position in the LFB, where oil revenues are deposited.

Siddik al-Kabir’s decision to appoint Al-Darrat as head of Libyan Foreign Bank’s management committee.

According to the contract, the signing between the GNU and Mercury Public Affairs was done with the knowledge of the Prime Minister of the GNU, Abdul Hamid Dbaiba. The payment will be made to Mercury Public Affairs on a monthly basis, equivalent to US$200,000 per month. It is not clear how the GNU will foot the bill—whether the GNU will pay it from its account or from a personal account in the UK as the contract was signed with Mercury’s UK division, or through a third party.

It is remarkable that the contract was signed on 7 April 2021 between the representative of the GNU, al-Darrat, with Mercury’s division in the UK (Mercury International UK Limited), which, in turn acted as an intermediary with Mercury Public Affairs in America (Mercury Public Affairs LLC). This method is contrary to what is customary, which is to sign with the company in the United States directly without an intermediary to avoid larger expenses.

 

It is noteworthy that the company’s commissioner, Anthony Cuccurullo, was dismissed from Mercury London a week after signing the contract. Corcello was the person who concluded the previous contract with Fayez al-Sarraj, the former Head of the Presidential Council of the Government of National Accord (GNA). Sarraj paid US$2 million to Mercury, and in exchange got an article published in his name in the Wall Street Journal, at a time he was still seeking a call with President Donald Trump during the war in 2019.

A document from the British Commercial Registry which indicates that Anthony Cuccurullo is no longer authorized by the company since 15 April 2021.

A former senior US official involved in Libya told Al-Monitor in 2019 that Mercury first approached the former 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.

ASMA YOUSEF AL-MAGARIAF

Asma Yousef al-Magariaf, the daughter of Mohammed al-Magariaf who was the former president of the General National Congress (GNC) and founder and leader of the National Front Partyis currently Vice President of Mercury Public Affairs.

In her short bio the Mercury Public Affairs website, it states that she was “a senior strategic communications advisor to the chairman of the first democratically elected General National Congress of Libya”, but fails to mention to name the chairman of the General National Congress, which was her father: Mohammed al-Magariaf.

The profile photo of Asma Yousef (al-Magariaf) at Mercury UK.

Al-Darrat has close ties with the Magariaf family, while Tarik Yousef al-Magariaf, Asma’s brother, holds several key positions including an advisory position with Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, mother of the Emir Qatar, as well as being a member of the Board of Directors of the CBL. And as we know, the CBL now controls the LFB, with its management committee headed by al-Darrat, following Dbaiba’s decision after Sarraj transferred the LFB’s subordination to the government early this year.

Asma Yousef is well known for being politically vocal on Twitter through her personal account (@LibyanBentBladi). Through her twitter page she frequently shows sympathy and support for Muslim Brotherhood leaders who are arrested in Saudi Arabia as well as in Egypt. She was known for regularly posting Egypt, and describing the country as a police state led by the repressive regime led of the “dictator” Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Four out of the seven members of the CBL’s Board of Directors issued a statement rejecting the decision to appoint al-Darrat as director of the LFB, and stressed that the decision was illegal. One of the four members said to AlMarsad: “How can the CBL monitor al-Darrat’s work at the LFB while he has family ties to Tarik Youssef al-Magarif, a member of the CBL’s Board of Directors! It is suspicious and a clear conflict of interest.”

TARIK YOUSEF AL-MAGARIAF

Tarik al-Magariaf has worked as the director of Sheikha Moza bint Nasser’s Qatar Foundation and Silatech for four years, after which he worked as a consultant at Sheikha Moza’s Qatari Executive Office in Doha.

He also works for the PR company APCO. APCO organized a meeting for Sarraj in September 2019 in New York with US oil companies, although the meetings did not result in anything useful or bear any fruit as usual.

Interestingly, Tarik Yousef’s wife, Hend al-Amry, rose to prominence in 2011 with her tweets supporting the Qatar-backed rebel movement. Based in Doha, Hend al-Amry is regarded as the “viral queen of Twitter”. Her posts on Libya from her account @LibyaLiberty are often closely aligned to the groups connected to the previous militia regime in Tripoli.

In addition, the former US Special Envoy for Libya, Jonathan Winer, is also a Senior Counselor for APCO. 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—in addition to his pro-Islamist approach in Libyan affairs and blatant attacks via his social media accounts and his writings against Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and the Libyan National Army (LNA).

Sarraj at the Concordia Forum: Between Fact and Fiction

QATAR AND MERCURY PUBLIC AFFAIRS

One of Mercury’s most prominent clients is the Government of Qatar. Qatar hired Mercury to help promote its positions and policies in US circles, especially during the period of the blockade by Gulf states. Those countries, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), cut diplomatic and economic relations with Qatar, citing renewed concerns that the country is helping to fund terrorist groups.

According to The Hill, Qatar hired the firm of former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft to assist in “evaluating, verifying, and as necessary, strengthening the client’s anti-money laundering and counterterrorism financial compliance programs and providing legal advice and recommendations to enhance and improve such efforts,” according to a contract signed on 7 June 2017—two days after the start of the blockade.

Mercury was particularly important also for Qatar’s efforts on a range of fronts from politics to football: “Mercury, which has former Rep. Vin Weber (R-Minn.) on staff, facilitated meetings between the Qataris and prominent lawmakers, as well as discussing military arms sales, lawmaker and staff trips to Qatar, and the Senate’s inquiry into labor practices involved in the construction of stadiums for the World Cup.”

The Turkish government of Recep Tayyib Erdogan was also major client of Mercury. However, Mercy cancelled its contract with Turkey under pressure from Armenian-American political groups in the US, due Erdogan’s involvement in the war with Azerbaijan at the end of 2020 and for shipping Syrian mercenaries to the warzone.

Erdogan has shipped over 15,000 Syrian mercenaries to Libya, in coordination with the former GNA, and yet Mercury Public Relations saw fit to continue billing the Tripoli government for its PR and lobbying services.

A QUESTION OF ETHICS AND TRANSPARENCY

Siddik al-Kabir’s appointment of Mohamed Ali Abdullah al-Darrat as head of the management committee to oversee the Libyan Foreign Bank (LFB), had already raised red flags and revealed the corrupt way in which appointments are made on the basis of cronyism and political ties. Four out of the seven CBL board members had condemned the appointment. Darrat’s family ties to a member of the Board of Directors of the Central Bank of Libya (CBL), namely Tarik Yousef al-Magariaf, should have been an obvious case of conflict of interest, particularly for a critical position that would have exerted influence over a bank that oversees the oil revenues of the country.

However, to add insult to injury, the Dbaiba government seemingly gave the go ahead for Al-Darrat to sign a PR and lobbying contract with Mercury Public Affairs—a firm whose Vice President is Asma Yousef al-Magarief, the sister of Tarik Yousef al-Magariaf and daughter of the founder of the National Front Party (NFSL), a party which is currently headed by al-Darrat himself.

Given al-Darrat’s ties to the National Front Party, which is aligned to the Muslim Brotherhood, and his ties to the Magariaf family, one cannot but conclude that such appointments and contracts are yet another example of gross abuse of public office and use of public funds, and display a total lack of due process, oversight and transparency in Libya.

© ALMARSAD ENGLISH (2021)

FURTHER LINKS

FARA Document Reveals How GNA’s Lobbying Firm Promotes Wolfram Lacher

Sarraj Overthrows Muslim Brotherhood’s Al-Manea from the LIA

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