Who’s Done Lobby for Moldovan Politicians in the United States

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Luni, 11.09.2017 10:00   1958
The Moldovan Democratic Party (PDM) has been the most active in getting its image promoted in the United States in the past two years. It has spent more than one million dollars for contracts already fulfilled and to be fulfilled.

This is translation from Romanian. The original article is HERE.

This sum is times larger than all other Moldovan individuals and legal entities have spent on similar activities in the past 25 years. 

Mold-Street has analyzed the contracts which the Moldovan authorities, politicians and business people signed for promotion of their interests and image in the United States. 

Who was Moldova’s first lobbyist in the US?

The first contract with a Moldovan that appears in the database of the US Department of Justice in compliance with the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) dates back to March 1993, when then president Mircea Snegur sought assistance from the consultancy Hall, Dickler, Lawler, Kent & Friedman.

The document says that consultancy was hired to „advise President Snegur in legal and economic matters associated with the creation and functioning of a market economy in Moldova, as well as other relevant issues.” The firm wasn’t hired and would not participate in supplying usual lobby services and President Snegur would occasionally ask Hall, Dickler, Lawler, Kent & Friedman to talk to US Government officials about providing services and/or funds to the Republic of Moldova, it says further. 

A partner at the firm, Mark A. Meyer, was in charge with this commitment. In a message from February 18, 1993, Mr. Snegur acknowledged Mr. Meyer that consultancy Hall, Dickler, Lawler, Kent & Friedman had an advisory status and himself was appointed as “a special, unpaid, advisor of the Moldovan President.”

„In this position we would like to receive from you information and consulting in economic and legal matters regarding the creation and functioning of a market economy,” the presidential message reads. It did not however disclose the costs or the duration of this contract. 

Honorary consul of Moldova, President Voronin and Transnistria issue

Mind that Mark Meyer continues to help Moldova in promoting its image and attracting American investments. In 1993 he established – and runs – the American-Moldovan Chamber of Trade in New York. He is also the Honorary Consul of Moldova in the state of New York.

Mark A. Meyer is a supporter of Moldova and frequently stood up to defend its independence, demanding the pullout of Russian troops from Transnistria. He is one of the authors of the study ”Thawing a Frozen Conflict: Legal Aspects of the Separatist Crisis in Moldova”, which was released in 2006 by the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, an organization he manages. 

The head of Moldovan think tank IDIS Viitorul, Igor Munteanu, was the ambassador to the US. He says that although both the Association and Mr. Meyer have done an extraordinary job, the impact from their work is low. 

„The study was prepared for internal use. Based on this document, the authorities in Chișinău had to work out a plan of legal, political, and diplomatic actions at international level, all designed to oblige Russia to withdraw its army group from Moldova and pay compensations to our country. President [Vladimir] Voronin however made this document a public issue and all those efforts had led nowhere as a consequence,” the former diplomat stated.

Mr. Munteanu believes that by doing so Voronin heavily damaged the national interests of his country.

The IDIS Viitorul director also specified that the American lawyer and his partners had not received any cash for the study but they were hoping to get rewards later on time should Moldova file suits against Russia. Nonetheless, Voronin recognized the merits of Mark Meyer and awarded the Civic Merit medal to him in September 2006.

Government seeking to talk to heads of Fortune 500 entries

At the end of 1993, the Moldovan Government was seeking the services of another company, Casystems International, via the American-Moldovan Chamber of Commerce of New York. The contract inked by Deputy Premier Nicolae Andronati and Frank G. Hilton said that the consultancy would represent the ex-Soviet republic in the US and would advertise its business opportunities among American companies in order to attract US investments into Moldova’s economy.

Casystems International was also committed to represent Moldova at loan and grant negotiations with the US Government, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. There was no time limit set in that agreement, no fees were involved or exchanges between the client and the supplier, and Casystems assumed all associated expenses.

The company was expected to work with the American-Moldovan Chamber of Commerce of New York and with Deputy Premier Nicolae Andronati in crafting a privatization program for the new independent country. It also needed to coordinate the meetings of Mr. Andronati with Congress members and CEOs of Fortune 500 ranking companies that aimed at advertising Moldova’s business opportunities and at assisting the Government in relations with private companies. 

Casystems expected to collect 10% of the profits from all joint projects implemented with its support.

How the Mezon deal failed

Five years will pass until someone from Moldova will seek lobby services in the United States. This time a Moldovan-American joint venture will approach consultancy McCaffrey Braley Inc.

The contract with Shellyn McCaffrey provided for services in favor of Mol-Med Ventures Inc. in Tequesta, Florida. The latter had an agreement with Mezon in Moldova on import of US commercial equipment and hardware into the former Soviet republic, eventually for a Moldovan-American partnership. 

Mol-Med Ventures Inc. was expected to identify the funding sources for the export of American equipment and hardware and for trade and business abroad, in the interests of the Moldovan state. The contract reads among others [translation], “…since this project is of major economic and commercial concern for the Government of Moldova, the Moldovan President has considered to get involved personally in this project and promote it (and maybe others).”

In August 2000, Mol-Med Ventures Inc.

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participated in a tender for privatization of Mezon SA, a former military electronics plant, and won the contract. The company was obliged to pay a tiny price of 150,000 dollars for a former Soviet industry giant where some 7,000 people worked until 1990. 

And more - Mol-Med Ventures Inc. was committed to pay more than 7 million lei in debts to the Moldovan state plus some 20 million German marks of its subsidiary Perfuzon. The investor was also obliged to invest 70 million dollars in the plant in the future.

The deal failed soon and already in October 2000 Mezon SA filed under the bankrupt clause; at that time its overall debts amounted to 150 million lei.

Americans, Moldovans, and the Kurchatov Institute

In October 1999, the Moldovan authorities asked John J. Gallagher to help upgrade the relations of the Government in Chisinau with the US Administration and Congress members. The agreement required the lobbyist to attract American investments into the Moldovan economy and in joint science and technology projects with Moldovans, Russians and Americans with the Kurchatov Institute in Russia. Documents show that the agreement was supported by then president Petru Lucinschi.

Moldovan millionaires seize the stage

And then another ten years passed before someone from Moldova decided to seek lobby services from US consultancies. 

Moldovan millionaire Anatol Stati contacted Covington & Burling via its firm Tristan Oil in 2009 over the pressure from the Kazakhstan authorities, which was trying to push him out of the Central Asian country. The sides signed a 100,000-dollar contract but the public never learned what it was about or how the consultancy helped the Moldovan entrepreneur. 

Plahotniuc and the Jackson-Vanik Amendment

Three years later, in August 2012, it was the turn of then-First Deputy Chairman of Parliament, Vlad Plahotniuc, to get in touch with the US lobby business. The agreement, which was signed with Mark Robertson, head of Potomac Global Advisors, LLC, provided for logistic support for Mr. Plahotniuc at the International Leaders Forum, an event held by the National Democratic Institute in collaboration with the National Democratic Convention in Charlotte, in September 2012.

Potomac Global Advisors, LLC, was also bound to organize bilateral meetings with White House members, Congress Representatives, Department of State and Department of Commerce officials. One of the topics which Plahotniuc, leader of the Moldovan Democratic Party, wanted to address there was lifting the US trade barriers for Moldova by cancelling the Jackson-Vanik Amendment. 

The Jackson-Vanik Amendment was passed in 1974, during the Cold War. The bill limited the export of US products and hardware to the Soviet Union and later, after its collapse, to ex-Soviet republics. Georgia was removed from this list in 2000, Armenia in 2004, and Ukraine in 2005. Moldova was able to escape the Jackson-Vanik legislation only in December 2014, along with Russia. 

As Igor Munteanu – Moldova’s ambassador in Washington DC at that time – recalls, many decision-makers in the US considered to regard Moldova as country dominated by anti-semitism and the trade barriers survived. 

„A great deal of efforts was necessary in order persuade the US Senators and the House of Representatives to repeal this amendment in relation with Moldova. Other countries were using services of consultancies and lobbyists to promote their interests while Moldova lacked the necessary cash and acted through personal meetings with representatives of Congress members,” Mr. Munteanu explained. 

Lobby for PLDM and Vlad Filat

In April 2014, the Moldovan Liberal Democratic Party (PLDM) sought lobby services from Fianna Strategies LLC. Although PLDM and its leader Vlad Filat were the de facto beneficiaries, the services were contracted by Kapital Invest Company SA from Iași, Romania. Mr. Filat, who in 2016 was sentenced to 9 years in prison, was the majority shareholder of Kapital Invest Company SA.

For 15,000 de dolari, Fianna Strategies esd expected to prepare a visit of Vlad Filat to Washington DC, to arrange meetings with Congress members and US Administration officials, with think tanks and mass media. Five months later, in September 2014 PLDM again contracted Fianna Strategies LLC. This time the 20,000 contract was signed between Vlad Filat himself and the consultancy’s CEO Molly McKew.

Fianna offered consultancy services to PLDM as well as support in building partnerships and ties with relevant US officials including representatives of the Administration, Congress, media, and other organizations. It was also due to assist the Moldovan party in organizing official visits of PLDM leaders to the United States and in communicating the party’s stance, and in providing details about Moldova’s internal situation in the context of the November 2014 parliamentary elections. One year later, in August 2015, a new agreement gets signed with similar provisions and with a deadline at July 31, 2016. There were no details about the cost of services. 

What was Podesta’s job for PDM

Nonetheless, the most expensive lobby deals ever a Moldovan signed up for are those between the Democratic Party (PDM), the ruling party in the former Soviet republic, and Podesta Group, another known consultancy in the US.

On June 21, 2016, Podesta Group was awarded a lobby contract worth around 600,000 dollars from the Moldovan Democratic Party, PDM, which asked for PR activities and assistance in building lucrative relationships with influential Americans.

Mold-Street has screened the activities which Podesta Group was committed to carry out in 2016 for Moldovan Democrats. 

A company report shows that in 2016 Podesta organized and planned more than 250 activities and the first one started on July 27, 2016, with a phone call to Victoria Nuland, assistant for European and Eurasian Affairs to the US Secretary of State. Later on Podesta will call again Mrs. Nuland and will sent two emails to her inbox. 

Otherwise the bulk of activities were in the form of electronic messages to various recipients, mainly to media organizations, public institutions, and think tanks. On August 3-4, for example, Podesta sent emails to a group of journalists at Forbes, including Michael Noer, executive editor at the magazine’s special projects department. Other targeted media were the New York Times, Reuters, Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal, CNN, USA Today, Washington Post, Washington Times, The Hill, Associated Press, Fox, Politico, etc.

The Podesta report also refers to 18 meetings. The first was held on August 8, with Desmond Butler, reporter at the Associated Press International Investigative Team, one of the authors of an investigation about the trafficking in radioactive substances via Moldova. It was Atlantic Council that attracted most of meetings – three – and the highest ranking attendee was Bridget Brink, deputy assistant to the Secretary of State, of the European and Eurasian Affairs. This meeting took place on September 29, 2016. 

How much Podesta received and what PDM reported

Podesta published a financial report that covers its activities for the Moldovan party. The report says that PDM wired 484,000 dollars (10 million lei at the exchange rate of that date) onto Podesta’s accounts between July 1 and November 25, 2016. The company notes that 47,100 dollars represented reimbursements and that the expenses related to reimbursements were associated with Podesta’s activities while none of US officials or media representatives benefited from this sum.

Plahotniuc’s article delivered to more than 200 US officials

Back in Moldova, PDM in its financial report to the Central Election Commission never put those expenses distinct from other expenses, and never mentioned their purpose. One may learn from that report that in 2016 PDM spent more than 40.5 million lei for “press and promotion”, that was 87.5% of its publicly announced budget. The 10 million lei for Podesta Group accounted for 25% of PDM’s budget for promotion. 

In 2017 the PDM-Podesta collaboration continued. After the publication of an article titled ”Moldova Steers a Path to Democracy and Reform” in the Daily Caller from PDM chairman Vlad Plahotniuc, on April 12, 2017, Podesta reported that it sent the link to the article and an executive summary to more than 200 emails of advisors and assistants to Senators and Representatives, as well as White House members. 

New contracts of millions

In late July 2017, PDM contracted two major lobby consultancies in the US: Cornerstone Government Affairs and Podesta Group. They were asked to organize high level meetings in the US and to advertise the policies of Moldovan Democrats, who would pay 480,000 dollars for services. Podesta, for instance, was hired for assistance in communicating the priorities in the US-Moldovan relationships to the relevant audiences in America, including Congress and politicians. 

The two companies have been in the top ten consultancies that earned the most expensive lobby and PR contracts in the US in the past years. Cornerstone Government Affairs earned in 2017 contracts worth 9.26 million dollars, though it is well beyond 16.8 million dollars earned a year earlier; the company ranked the eighth among lobby-makers in the US. Podesta Group was the third ranking in 2016 with 24.04 million dollars, and this year it earned 11.02 million. The company had been involved in several scandals related to promotion of interests of corrupt political leaders. 

US legislation obliges lobbyists working for a foreign agent (government, party, etc.) to renew registration once in six months at the Federal Department of Justice, in compliance with FARA procedures. A registered firm must expose the nature of services and the earnings from foreign agents.

Nonetheless Mold-Street found that a large part of documents on Moldovan contracts published by lobby entities missed the earnings – although descriptions of completed services exist. 

Why the Government can’t get lobby services

The head of IDIS Viitorul, a Moldovan think-tank, Igor Munteanu says that Moldova badly needs lobby in the US, otherwise it is tough to attract American investments or expect such giants as General Electric or General Motors to step up towards the ex-Soviet state. However, it’s not so easy as it seems to buy lobby services, according to Mr. Munteanu, formerly a Moldovan ambassador to the US. 

„In order to let Moldova benefit from lobby services, its government needs to hold a public auction. Very few people visit an auction in such cases. In this regard politicians have more room for maneuver in order to get those services,” the former diplomat explained. 

For years, Moldova benefited from unconditional support from several American states and has built good partnership bridges, he continued. Take for example Elaine F. Marshall, state secretary in North Carolina. She had lobbied with letters delivered to the White House requesting to lift the trade barriers in case of Moldova, with which North Carolina had partnerships. 

„This wasn’t a lobby in the broad meaning, but rather a symbolic support which yet was quite helpful,” added Igor Munteanu.

In December 2011, Elaine F. Marshall was awarded the Honorary Order of Moldova for her effort in building partnerships between North Carolina and Moldova. 

Sources say there are many more Moldovan politicians who received lobby and PR services from US consultancies, but no documentary evidence has been obtain to support those claims. 

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Acest articol a fost publicat cu susținerea fundației Național Endowment for Democracy în cadrul proiectului ”Promovarea responsabilității guvernării” și poate fi preluat pentru distribuire, publicare și citare fără careva limitări. Referința la sursă este obligatorie.   

This article has been published thanks to the support of the National Endowment for Democracy as part of the Promoting Government Accountability Project and may be shared, republished or quoted without limitations. Reference to the source is mandatory.



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