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Barron's Online Exclusives
Saturday September 23rd, 2017 01:05:04 PM
A wave of attacks by Chinese hackers on Germany’s cutting-edge manufacturers is raising alarm in Berlin and prompting the government to step in to defend the country’s competitive edge.
Saturday September 23rd, 2017 08:35:46 AM
Canyon Bridge, whose planned acquisition of a U.S. semiconductor company was scuttled earlier this month, has reached a deal to buy chip designer Imagination Technologies for $742.2 million.
Saturday September 23rd, 2017 11:41:17 AM
London’s top transport authority stripped Uber of its private-car hire license in the city, threatening to shut the company out of one of its biggest markets.
Tuesday December 1st, 2015 09:10:04 AM
The Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN), a nonprofit organization funded by the Coca-Cola Co., said on its website late Monday that it will discontinue its operations. The announcement comes four months after it was revealed that the Atlanta, Georgia-based beverage maker was involved in the activities of the group.
Monday November 30th, 2015 09:11:34 PM
Eager to capture the frenzied crowds that flock to brick-and-mortar stores on Black Friday, online retailers banded together 10 years ago and birthed a shopping holiday of their own. Since then, so-called Cyber Monday has turned out to be an enormous success, becoming the busiest online shopping day of the year.
Saturday November 28th, 2015 10:57:07 PM
In the wake of Black Friday, small shops and retailers were getting the attention on Saturday as United States consumers came out for Small Business Saturday -- a shopping holiday conceived by American Express in 2010. The day has become a way for small retailers, restaurants and shops to promote their establishments within their local communities.
Friday September 22nd, 2017 09:12:16 PM
In April 2016, the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca made headlines the world over after a leak of 11.5 million documents, dubbed the Panama Papers, shed light on its work creating shell companies and secretive foundations for a vast network of companies and individual clients. Worse — for Panama at least — the firm’s two founders held high positions in the country’s government.
In an interview with International Business Times Thursday on how his country has been working to strengthen the regulatory environment that facilitated Mossack Fonseca’s services, Panamanian Finance Minister Dulcidio De La Guardia defended his president, Juan Carlos Varela, despite the latter’s ties to the firm.
“I don’t think there is a conflict of interest if you are clear [about] what your objectives are,” said De La Guardia during an interview at the Lotte Palace Hotel in New York, where he and dozens of other diplomats were meeting for the United Nations General Assembly this week. “Besides, if that is the case, then there won’t be people to run the government in Panama. It is a very small country and we all come from either an engineer background, a law background or a business background. So, in that case — and most people, usually, like in the U.S., they go back to the private sector to continue their private life.”
Jurgen Mossack, one of the two founders of the firm at the center of the Panama Papers, served on Panama’s foreign relations council between 2009 and 2014, while Ramon Fonseca, the other founder, had been President Varela’s top adviser, before taking a leave of absence a month ahead of the publishing of his firm’s leaked documents.
Varela’s attorney general suspended an early investigation of the firm in January of this year, only to resume it weeks later, reportedly at the request of Brazilian authorities. They were probing Mossack Fonseca as part of an investigation into their own extensive corruption scandal, known as Lava Jato. When Panamanian officials raided the firm, arresting both founders, they described the action as part of the Lava Jato scandal, according to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which initially published the Panama Papers leak in conjunction with dozens of other media outlets in 2016. But, at the time, Mossack Fonseca tweeted an image of the search warrant used in the raid, contradicting that narrative.
“The Lava Jato case?” the firm wrote. “Here’s a search warrant that indicates it is for the Panama Papers.”As Fonseca was being arrested, he accused President Varelo of taking bribes from another scandalized firm, the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht, which was tied up in Peru’s Lava Jato investigation, was fined by the U.S. government after pleading guilty to bribery late last year and was fined by Panama’s government over bribery charges as recently as August.
Asked whether the timing of the suspension of the investigation, the raid and the accusation ought to raise suspicion of Varelo and his connections, De La Guardia once again defended the president, emphasizing the steep penalty recently imposed on Odebrecht by Varelo's Department of Justice.
“The president has been very clear” in his denial of the accusations that he’s taken campaign money from Odebrecht, and “has said it publicly many times,” De La Guardia said. He later added that the president has made a point of appointing “eight people, independent people, that were not related to his political party, or to his campaign” for high executive branch positions, naming the attorney general, Kenia Porcell, as an example.
“What we need is people who are independent, who are appointed to positions that will make sure the law is obeyed,” De La Guardia said. “All these people are responsible for making sure the financial system and the government and its laws are not related to the government party or to the campaign of President Varela, because he believes that it is important to have strong, independent institutions to make sure that the government is properly run.”
Mossack and Fonseca aren’t the only officials in Varela’s administration with an employer that's faced official scrutiny.
Álvaro Alemán, Varela’s chief of staff, worked at a law firm caught up in a money-laundering investigation by Argentinian authorities. Luis Miguel Hincapié, Panama’s deputy foreign minister, held positions at two Panama-based companies that were part of a ponzi scheme investigated by U.S. authorities. Mossack, Fonseca, Alemán and Hincapié were members of Panama’s Association of International Lawyers, which, the Panama Papers revealed, was dedicated to working around tax evasion laws, and Alemán was once its president.
Questioned about the administration’s independence, De La Guardia pointed to the indictment of Mossack Fonseca by the Panamanian government, and the two founders’ arrests.
“No, I don’t think it’s an issue,” he said. “I think it’s a matter of ‘What do you believe?’ and whether you want to make it — it’s true that there is a rule of law .”WorldVerified Related Video
Friday September 22nd, 2017 05:55:11 PM
Back at the start of the dot.com boom, Dr. Patrick M. Byrne was going around to investors trying to raise funding for Overstock.com, which would sell surplus stock cheaply. He kept getting refusals, while other dot-com retailers were touting huge valuations.
Later on, when half of them went bust, he went around buying up the stock they never sold – he's quick to point out that he took no pleasure in this of course.
Thursday September 21st, 2017 09:00:05 PM
With the United Nations General Assembly in session in New York, countries’ lobbying operations in the U.S. are in full swing.
Qatar has taken pole position in a public relations arms race against Saudi Arabia, which has been advancing the charge that Qatar finances terrorism. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates cut ties with Qatar in June. President Donald Trump declared days later that Qatar must end its funding of terrorism and appeared to take credit for pushing Gulf states and others to sever diplomatic relations.
Both Saudi Arabia and Qatar have since hired several well-connected D.C. lobbying shops and communications firms, gearing up their messaging as the dispute appears close to a resolution, with President Trump saying on Tuesday that “it will be solved pretty quickly.”
Qatar has taken out ad spots on TV networks Fox and MSNBC airing throughout the week. The ad tries to do a lot in 30 seconds: counters the charge that Qatar supports terrorism, touts its support for women’s rights and press freedom in comparison to other Gulf states, and calls for the renormalization of trade and travel -- restrictions Qatar calls a “blockade” -- while also striking a defiant tone that “Qatar will prevail” in spite of the blockade.
Qatar is likely trying to create buzz while visiting heads of state are in town, watching American news in between U.N. sessions. Reception from the general public has not been positive, if Twitter is any indication.
Twitter screenshot of reactions to Qatar ad
The ad, which is also running on YouTube, declares it was paid for by the Government Communications Office of Qatar and promotes a website LiftTheBlockade.com, which features the same “paid for by” statement. In the months since the diplomatic row began, Qatar has been on a lobbying spree, hiring no less than 11 lobbying and communications firms, according to filings with the Department of Justice’s Foreign Agents Registration Act database. Most notably, Qatar hired former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft for $2.5 million on June 7, days after Gulf states cut ties.
According to DOJ regulations, foreign agents file their activities reports in six-month cycles, so it is impossible to know which firm is responsible for the Lift The Blockade campaign, which only launched this week. However, only four of the firms are registered as working for the Government Communications Office, rather than the state itself or the embassy: Information Management Services, Levick Strategic Communications, Conover + Gould Strategic Communications, and Audience Partners Worldwide. The latter two are both working as subcontractors of Information Management Services.
Qatar’s Government Communications Office is paying Information Management Services a staggering $375,000 per month on a three-month renewable contract -- more than $1.1 million per quarter. The contract also gives Information Management Services a $250,000 expense account held in escrow to be used however the company deems necessary, reimbursed on a monthly basis. That means Qatar could be spending as much as $625,000 per month through the company.
Despite being incorporated since 1997, Information Management Services apparently only started working as a foreign agent in June, with Qatar as its first and only foreign client. It describes itself vaguely as “an international research firm that produces in-depth data identification and analysis.” The company is wholly owned by Jeff Klueter, a former researcher for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, who has worked as an opposition researcher on behalf of Democratic presidential candidates from at least 1992 to 2008.
In addition to the video ads, Qatar has also taken out billboards in Times Square in New York City, where the UN is in session. On Twitter, London-based advertising firm Media Agency Group claimed credit for the ad campaign in Times Square.
After initially speaking by phone with an executive of the firm, the company did not respond to emailed questions from International Business Times. It is unclear whether the firm contracted directly with the Qatar Government Communications Office or was subcontracted by another firm that the government hired. Either scenario would require the firm to be registered with the DOJ as a foreign agent of Qatar, which Media Agency Group has not done, according to filings available in the DOJ’s database.
Questionable Social Media Support
Qatar has been targeting both traditional media through television ad campaigns and billboards in Times Square, as well as social media, with YouTube ads and a new LiftTheBlockade.com website. The official @LiftTheBlockade Twitter account only has 82 followers, but the campaign has been heavily promoted by the @IStandWithQatar account, which has more than 4,000 followers.The account uses the signifiers of countless “I stand with” grassroots activist campaign slogans and hashtag activism. However, evidence suggests the account may actually be controlled by either the Qatari government or one of the public relations firms it has hired in recent months. @IStandWithQatar spent most of Tuesday live tweeting Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani’s speech at the United Nations. On Monday, the account sent a string of four tweets mentioning the Government Communications Office Twitter account, @GCOQatar, as well as posting GCO infographics and directing media to speak to the GCO.After initially following me back, the account unfollowed me after I asked if it is run by the Qatari government. They also said they have no press contact for the apparent activist campaign. Notably, the account joined Twitter in June 2016, but either did not tweet or deleted all of its tweets before June of this year, when the diplomatic scuffle began. Either the account was dormant prior to the June of this year or it had another use was and repurposed -- along with its followers -- for promoting an end to punitive measures against Qatar.
LiftTheBlockade.com was registered last week, on Sept. 11. IStandWithQatar.com was registered three days later, on Sept. 14, making it appear likely that the two are related.
Saudi Arabia’s Public Relations Blitz
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has been promoting its own position through a proxy website, The Qatar Insider, claims to be “the comprehensive source for information on the truth about Qatar’s funding, activities and support for terrorist and extreme Islamist groups.” Though it looks like an ordinary news website focused on Qatar, the website is a project of the Saudi Arabia Public Relations Affairs Committee (SAPRAC), according to a disclosure on the site. In August, SAPRAC hired the DC lobbying firm Podesta Group through for $50,000 per month. Podesta Group was originally founded by Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign chair John Podesta, who no longer works there, though his brother, Tony Podesta, still heads it.
Podesta Group’s work plan for SAPRAC describes its work as “building on President Donald Trump's calls on Qatar to stop financing terrorism; and reinforcing Saudi Arabia's role as a leader in stabilizing the region.” But in the details of the three-month work plan for SAPRAC, Podesta Group’s work is focused primarily on promoting The Qatar Insider and its associated social media accounts; the first step in the plan was to “assess the effectiveness of these properties in targeting our audience of DC elites.” Podesta Group then lays out a plan for a mix of search engine marketing, paid social media posts, and online advertisements in influential DC publications Politico and The Hill direct “thought leaders” to the site, noting: “our paid plan will include eye-catching online ads to drive home our topline messaging and push US thought leaders to The Qatar Insider.” It also laid out a plan for a series of videos meant to promote Saudi Arabia as a key American ally and “highlight the Qatar terrorism issue.”
Podesta Group has had its eye set on the U.N. General Assembly three months ago when the work plan was created. The strategy for the General Assembly is similarly focused on influential publications, saying the Group will “Prepare recommendations to amplify our messaging surrounding the 72nd Regular Session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA),” which “could include partnering with Foreign Policy or POLITICO for a sponsored event and/or newspaper advertising that could run in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today and The Washington Post.”
Ironically, Klueter of Information Management Services and Podesta are used to working together. According to Podesta’s emails leaked by Wikileaks last year, Klueter was conducting opposition research on John McCain in 2008 on behalf of Hillary Clinton, while the Democratic primary race with Barack Obama was still in full swing. Now Klueter’s firm and Podesta’s firm find themselves on opposite sides of the Qatari-Saudi schism.
The Podesta Group also works for the Saudi kingdom through the Center for Studies and Media, an arm of the government that apparently exists solely for hiring lobbyists. According to the Group’s semi-annual activity report, it has primarily pitched journalists on behalf of the Saudi kingdom and contacted think tanks on both sides of the political spectrum, from the conservative American Enterprise Institute and Heritage Foundation to the liberal Center for American Progress, which John Podesta founded in 2003.National0
Saturday November 21st, 2015 01:48:00 PM
TEHRAN, Iran (Reuters) -- Iran's new oil and gas contracts will have flexible terms that take into account oil price fluctuations and investment risks, a senior Iranian official told Reuters Saturday. Iran is trying to lure back international oil companies to develop its vast oil and gas reserves once sanctions are lifted under a deal with world powers.
Iran will announce a new development contract model at conferences in Tehran Nov. 28-29 and in London in February.
Sunday November 8th, 2015 10:32:47 PM
A year after the price of crude went into free fall, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has said that it has no plans to reduce oil drilling. In comments to the Financial Times, Saudi officials said they see no reason to slow the supply of oil in advance of an international producers' meeting in December.
Wednesday October 28th, 2015 07:27:23 PM
As Middle East and Latin American countries grapple with sinking oil prices, the United States is considering a budget deal that would require the sale of 58 million barrels of oil from the emergency reserve created decades ago to shield the nation from market disruptions. While this release of crude is unlikely to directly affect oil prices, some experts say depleting the Strategic Petroleum Reserve could leave the U.S. vulnerable to unforeseen events that disrupt global oil markets.