Turkish bank hires lobby firm with Trump ties

Turkish bank hires lobby firm with Trump ties
© Greg Nash

A state-owned Turkish bank, where a senior executive allegedly violated Iran sanctions, has hired Ballard Partners, a lobbying firm with ties to President Trump.

Former Democratic Rep. Robert Wexler (Fla.) will be handling the account for Halkbank, and the firm is earning $375,000 per quarter for its work — a sizable amount even for a foreign lobbying contract.

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Ballard Partners “will provide principal with advocacy services relative to their commercial activities in the United States, and any necessary and appropriate interactions with officials in the United States government related to those activities,” according to documents submitted to the Justice Department.

The president of Ballard Partners, Brian Ballard, is a top fundraiser for President Trump and served as vice chairman of his inaugural committee and as a member of the Presidential Finance Transition Committee.

Wexler already represents the government of Turkey at the firm, and called the new contract a “natural extension” of that work.

“Our representation of the government of Turkey as well as Halkbank is all done for the purposes of enhancing the bilateral relationship of the U.S. and Turkey on a geopolitical, strategic, and commercial level — that’s the focus,” he said, adding that it’s “desperately needed at this time.”

The government of Turkey’s contract is worth another $375,000 per quarter.

Several U.S. agencies have regulatory oversight over Halkbank, including the Treasury Department and the State Department, but Wexler said he’s not authorized to talk publicly about his specific work on behalf of the client.

Earlier this year, Mehmet Hakan Atilla, Halkbank’s deputy general manager, was detained at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport after being charged with conspiring to evade trade sanctions on Iran. Atilla strongly denies those charges.

The bank said in a statement that it did not use “any mechanisms, methods or systems other than regulations and foreign trade practices known and followed by all other banks.”

It’s unclear what role the incident is playing in Ballard Partner’s work for Halkbank.

Foreign governments and corporations often hire consultants and lobbyists to help them navigate the U.S. system. 

The Foreign Agents Registration Act requires firms to file documents with the Justice Department about lobbying, public relations or consulting work on behalf of or influenced by a foreign government or official.

The rules are much more strict than those lobbying or working for domestic entities. They require  more detailed disclosures, such as bi-annual updates on who inside and outside the U.S. government has been contacted on a client’s behalf.

Wexler resigned from Congress in 2010. While in office, he served on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and started the Turkey Caucus.