PR firm took $1.2M from Gadhafi’s Libya

An international public relations firm worked to boost the regime of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi while employed by an oil executive with business interests in the country, new documents show.

Brown Lloyd James (BLJ) filed a dozen and half contracts and semi-annual reports with the Justice Department last week to document their work for a slew of foreign clients — such as the governments of Qatar and Morocco — that were previously unreported. 

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The new records included a revised agreement with Hassan Tatanaki, a businessman who has oil interests in Libya, according to Justice records.

The records show that Tatanaki asked the firm to assist the Libyan government on his behalf.

“At the direction of our client, Hassan Tatanki, we assisted the Libyan government in its efforts to reach out to the international political community through the United Nations and to the U.S. political and university community,” the firm says in records filed with Justice. “The scope of our work included assisting Mr. Tatanaki help the Libyan government deepen its ties to the U.S. and international political communities by assisting President Gadhafi with certain public events, and by promoting student exchange programs and university research programs with Libya.” 

“Brown Lloyd James is satisfied that our applications are in order concerning the firm's work in Libya, which ended more than a year ago,” the firm said in a statement to The Hill.

On Sept. 30, 2009, the firm received a more than $1.2 million payment from the Libyan Mission to the U.N. That was to reimburse the firm for “logistical support” for Gadhafi’s September 2009 visit to the U.N. in New York City. That helped pay for “hotels, drivers, etc.” as “directed by our client H. Tatanaki,” according to Justice records.

“The payment received from the Libyan Mission was strictly for out-of-pocket expenses incurred by BLJ. This payment is fully reported in our filing and is related to the UN visit of Col. Gaddafi in 2009, which has been reported on by many media outlets, and which was conducted through the client Mr. Tatanaki,” the firm said.

As part of the contract, the firm arranged speeches by Gadhafi at Georgetown University and before the United Nations' General Assembly.

“We did not advise on the content or delivery of these speeches,” the firm says in the Justice records.

Brown Lloyd James set up interviews between reporters and Gadhafi and helped distribute and edit op-eds written by the Libyan dictator. Executives at the firm also provided strategic advice to senior Libyan government officials and organized meetings with civic and non-governmental groups, according to Justice records. 

On behalf of Tatanaki, the firm also helped publicize the 2009 Pan-Africa Inaugural Ball, which celebrated President Obama’s inauguration and featured guests including actor Robert DeNiro, Sarah Obama, the president’s Kenyan grandmother, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, according to a press release the firm filed with the Justice Department. Tatanaki was one of the event’s sponsors.

The firm also publicized an April 2010 speech Gadhafi gave via satellite from Libya to the World Affairs Council in Washington by distributing and editing press releases.

Tatanaki has paid Brown Lloyd more than $560,000 to cover fees and expenses, according to Justice records.

Brown Lloyd James, which has branches in Washington, London and New York City, announced in 2008 that it had opened up an office in Tripoli, Libya’s capital, according to a press release. A Google cache still lists Tripoli as an office of the firm, though it is no longer listed on the firm’s live website.

“After U.S. relations with Libya were restored, Libya remained a complex and opaque place to work. Regarding your specific inquiry, our client was Hassan Tatanaki,” the firm said.

Brown Lloyd James is no longer working for Tatanaki. The firm’s contract with the businessman is still listed as “active” by Justice, but other records filed by Brown Lloyd James indicate they terminated their agreement with Tatanaki in April 2010. 

The public relations firm previously filed a contract with Tatanaki with Justice.

The original agreement, signed in 2008, said the firm was to disseminate written materials on behalf of Challenger Limited, an oil company that is active in North Africa and owned by Tatanaki’s family. That document described Challenger owning and operating 22 oil rigs in Libya, working as “a regular subcontractor” to Libya’s national oil corporation as well as to Eni, Marathon Oil and Total.

Scrutiny over ties to the Libyan regime has intensified since the uprising against Gadhafi began earlier this year. Questions were raised about the Monitor Group, a Cambridge, Mass.-based consulting group, due to their work on behalf of Gadhafi’s regime.

Consequently, Monitor hired law firm Covington & Burling to conduct an investigation into whether it should have registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). Monitor would later file the necessary forms retroactively with Justice to document their work for Libya and another foreign government client, Jordan.

Lobbying and public relations campaigns to influence U.S. government policy or U.S. public opinion on behalf of a foreign government, politician or political party require firms to register under FARA. Not filing with Justice could lead to fines up to $10,000 or five years in prison.

Like Monitor, Brown Lloyd James has filed several forms with the Justice Department’s FARA Unit retroactively. In addition, the firm has said that it has done public relations for Libya in the past. 

A May 2011 article in The Guardian quoted a firm executive saying as much. 

"BLJ New York did provide some PR services to Libya but have not done so since 2009," said Oliver Lloyd, the firm’s executive vice president in London, told The Guardian. "The UK office has never had a contract with the Libyans or received any payments from the Libyan government or either Moammar or Saif Gadhafi." 

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment for this piece.

Gadhafi announced in 2003 that Libya was abandoning its weapons of mass destruction program, which began a rocky reconciliation with the West. But the strongman is now a pariah again after authorizing a brutal crackdown on rebels in Libya earlier this year.

The United States has played a significant role in an international bombing campaign to protect Libyan rebels and subdue Gadhafi. The rebels received a boost on Friday when the Obama administration recognized them as the official government of Libya.