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Al-Sarraj pays thousands of dollars to get Op-Ed published in US

The Address | Benghazi – Libya

A US public relations company retained three weeks ago by Presidency Council head Faiez al-Sarraj to lobby for him at a cost of $2 million a year, has managed to place an Op-Ed article, written in his name, in the prestigious Wall Street Journal.

According to US online publication POLITICO, the managing director at the lobbying and communications company Mercury, Beth DeFalco, was able to get the article placed within the first month of the contract being agreed.

The contract was signed last month. Under its terms, the PC pays $150,000 a month plus an additional $50,000 a quarter to cover expenses, billed quarterly.

The Op-Ed, entitled Libya Can’t Take Another Tyrant and which appeared on 9 May in the WSJ, was an appeal direct to President Donald Trump by al-Sarraj to back him rather than Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. It followed the unexpected phone call between Trump and Haftar last month which appears to have reversed US policy in Libya, showing Trump to be now endorsing Haftar.

“To prevent a bloody civil war with global implications, Libya needs the U.S. to help stop other countries from meddling in our affairs,” al-Sarraj wrote. “I remain hopeful that President Trump will succeed where previous presidents have failed, and that he will use his power to create peace, stability, and security in Libya and the wider region,” he added.

Mercury, with offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles, and several other U.S. cities as well as London, Singapore and Mexico City, has no known previous experience in Libya.

In the U.S., public relations companies working for foreign clients much register details with the Justice Department under the terms of the 1938 Foreign Agents Registration Act.

The contract between the PC and Mercury, initially for one year and signed on the PC’s behalf on 25 April by Yousef al-Mabrouk, was registered by the Justice Department’s FARA unit the following day. Mabrouk is both chief of staff at al-Sarraj’s office and vice chairman of the LIA.

The contract covers:

  • Lobbying the US Congress and the US administration;
  • Identifying interest groups that of value to the PC and coordinating support with them;
  • Media and public relations;
  • International affairs.

Mercury also lobbies for the Qatar embassy in Washington, the Turkish embassy, the Turkey-US Business Council, and the American-Turkish Council.

According to the US-based Middle East publication Al-Monitor, a number of Washington lobbyists had tried to sign up the PC ever since it was created and there was an approach from Mercury in 2016, going partly through Wafa Bughaighis, Libya’s present ambassador in Washington. But the PC rejected it on the basis of the high cost.

It also quotes a former US official based in Libya saying that the decision now to retain Mercury is because of the LNA offensive against Tripoli.

“The Libyans always wait until they’re forced into a panic zone and then they look for alliances,” the former official said. “Mercury was on their radar, and when this happened they realized they needed some avenues to get to people,” he added.

Subsequent to al-Sarraj retaining the services or Mercury, his deputy Ahmed Maitig also agreed a contract with Washington PR company Prime Policy Group to lobby for him with the US administration and Congress.  The value of that contract has not so far been disclosed.

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