Deposed sheik hires former reporter in lobbying effort

Glenn Simpson, the ex-Wall Street Journal reporter, filed a lobbying registration early last month under his firm, SNS Global, to investigate the emirate of Ras al Khaimah (RAK).

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Simpson’s work is on behalf of Sheik Khalid bin Saqr al-Qasimi, who believes Iran is using the emirate, which his father rules, to circumvent tough international trade sanctions. He also accuses the emirate’s regime of links to terrorist groups and arms dealers.

Simpson said he does not plan to lobby, only research, and filed the registration out of an abundance of caution.

“Under a careful reading of the [Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA)], research firms are obligated to register if their work is used in meetings with government officials,” Simpson said in an e-mail to The Hill. “We elected to file under LDA on the advice of our expert counsel; advisers to Sheik Khalid who perform different services filed under [the Foreign Agents Registration Act] on the advice of their own expert counsel.”

SNS is the latest firm to join al-Qasimi’s lobbying effort to boost the sheik’s public image in America and highlight the emirate’s alleged ties to Iran.

The sheik hired California Strategies and Democratic strategist Chris Lehane, among others, in September 2008. The firm earned $111,500 for the first six months of work, according to Justice Department records.

California Strategies, in turn, hired the International Government Relations Group, which is run by former Rep. Max Sandlin (D-Texas), to work for al-Qasimi in a six-month, $230,000 subcontract that started in early October this year. International Government Relations replaced BKSH & Associates as the lobbying arm of the sheik’s campaign.

SNS is also a subcontractor to California Strategies. SNS’s contract is worth $40,000, according to the lobbying registration.

Simpson started SNS in March this year with Journal colleague Sue Schmidt, who won a 2006 Pulitzer Prize while at The Washington Post for her investigative work into the activities of lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who is now serving a prison term. Schmidt, however, is not registered to lobby for the sheik.

The contract comes as Washington focuses more and more attention on Iran. The Iranian regime has come under increasing international pressure of late after it disclosed a second secret nuclear facility in September.

Congress is considering bills to impose tough new sanctions on Iran. The Senate Banking committee passed  a measure that would sanction companies that provide gasoline to Iran. The House passed a bill that gives authority to state and local governments to divest from companies working in Iran.

Al-Qasimi is legally the deputy ruler and crown prince, but he was removed from office in 2003. His father, Sheik Saqr bin Mohammad al-Qasimi, is the current ruler of Ras al Khaimah (RAK).

The UAE sought to distance themselves from Al-Qasimi’s lobbying campaign.

“Khalid bin Saqr Al-Qasimi currently holds no official role in the local government of the emirate or the Federal Government of the United Arab Emirates.

As such, his words, views, or expressions do not represent the official position of any governmental agency in the UAE, either local or federal,” a UAE embassy spokesman said.

Simpson has extensive experience investigating financial activities. He investigated ties between Riggs Bank and dictators like Augusto Pinochet of Chile and accounting fraud at failed insurance giant AIG. His work also helped the Journal win several libel cases brought in European court by groups suspected of financing Islamic terrorism.

In an e-mail to The Hill, Lehane said SNS was hired because the firm shares “the concerns of the client regarding Iran’s effort to use the rogue nation of Ras al Khaimah as a portal to circumvent various sanction regimes and respect the fact that Sheik Khalid is someone with a long history of opposing Iran and supporting U.S. security interests.”

So far, Simpson has produced a 36-page report detailing alleged links between RAK and Iran, terrorist groups and arms dealers.

In a letter to Congress, al-Qasimi says the report shows how the emirate is undermining the security interests of the United States as well as the United Arab Emirates.

“The report concludes that RAK is an increasingly important staging ground for Iranian efforts to circumvent international economic conditions,” al-Qasimi writes in the letter. He blamed “weak governance standards … an opaque corporate and financial system … and an explicit policy by the regime of cultivating economic ties with Tehran.”

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Al-Qasimi shared the report with lawmakers on a lobbying blitz of Capitol Hill this September.

Al-Qasimi’s lobbying effort also appears to be his formal introduction to Washington. He came to the nation’s capital right after last year’s election and earlier this year for President Barack Obama’s inauguration to meet with government officials. The sheik has also set up a website where he posts press releases and blog items — including one blaming RAK’s alleged ties to Iran for losing hosting rights for America’s Cup, the yacht race.

Al-Qasimi also paid for advertisements on websites, in newspapers and on buses to congratulate Obama for his election victory, costing at least $158,000, according to Justice Department records.