By Kevin Bogardus - 12/03/11 09:31 PM EST
A Libyan businessman who helped pay for public relations work that promoted former dictator Moammar Gadhafi is back in the influence game on behalf of Libyan refugees and freedom fighters.
Hassan Tatanaki is founder and chairman of the Libya El Hurra Charity, which is affiliated with the Libya Al Hurra Foundation.
The foundation is paying the lobby firm to inform Washington policymakers of its work in Libya "on humanitarian support, civil works projects, and infrastructure development," according to Justice records.
Tatanaki is chairman of the oil drilling company Challenger Limited, which owns several oil rigs in Libya, and is called "the chief donator at the present time" for the charity, according to the charity's website. Tatanaki is tied to the foundation as well, according to Omar Khalifa, an adviser with the foundation.
"He does have an advisory position," Khalifa told The Hill, though he noted that Tatanaki is not a member of the foundation's elected board of directors. Tatanaki founded the charity in February 2011 around the start of the Libyan revolt against Gadhafi. The foundation was founded later that spring in Costa Mesa, Calif., according to Khalifa.
Tatanaki is not new to the influence industry. The oilman paid more than $570,000 to cover fees and expenses for the PR firm Brown Lloyd James from January 2008 to April 2010 to promote Libya, particularly Gadhafi, according to amended records the firm filed with Justice.
On behalf of Tatanaki, the PR firm helped arrange some of Gadhafi's speeches, distribute his op-eds and set up media interviews.
"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 said in Justice records.
More than $575,000 was paid to the firm from the Libyan Mission to the United Nations (UN) at the direction of Tatanaki to help coordinate Gadhafi’s September 2009 visit there, according to the firm’s amended Justice records.
“Any involvement he had with Brown Lloyd James at that time was to help with student exchange programs and university research programs,” Khalifa said about Tatanaki’s contract with the PR firm. “That's the way I understand it, from what I read.”
Khalifa noted the good work that Tatanaki’s charity has done in Libya, which he called the largest non-governmental organization in the North African country. He said the charity has spent more than $20 million since the revolution on aid to the Libyan people, has contributed 100 tons of food and water to refugees across the country and partnered with the United Nations and other international groups to provide relief, according to Khalifa.
The charity does have an ambitious plan.
Included among documents the Franklin Partnership filed with Justice is a list of 19 different projects to improve Libya under a timeline of September 2011 to June 2012. That list includes a community beautification initiative, financial aid for relatives of killed freedom fighters and a national reconciliation program.
Khalifa said Tatanaki has long been a philanthropist, supporting university programs and a school for the blind during the past several years. Khalifa said the oilman was not a Gadhafi supporter.
“Absolutely not,” Khalifa said. “I would say he has always been a supporter of the Libyan people.”