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Libya lobbyist holds seat on top U.S. Energy board

Posted in the database on Wednesday, May 25th, 2005 @ 18:23:13 MST (1889 views)
by Adam Entous    Reuters  

Untitled Document WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Although the United States still classifies Libya as a terrorism sponsor, the U.S. lobbyist for Muammar Gaddafi has for the past year quietly held a seat on the Energy Department's top advisory board, and the former energy secretary who appointed her now serves on the board of a major U.S. oil company seeking contracts in Libya.

U.S. President Bush rolled back most economic sanctions against Libya more than a year ago, and administration officials say the appointments do not violate any laws or restrictions on former policymakers.

But some outside experts and families of the victims of the 1988 Pan Am Flight 103 Lockerbie bombing, blamed on Libya, say the web of connections raises questions about conflicts of interest and undue Libyan influence.

"Do we really want someone advising the U.S. energy secretary on energy policy who has literally signed up to put Libya's interests first?" asked Mary Boyle of the watchdog group Common Cause.

Former Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham's chief of staff, Joseph McMonigle, said it was not uncommon for departing government officials -- and lobbyists -- to get seats on the industry-dominated energy advisory board.

Less than a month after Bush suspended most sanctions against Libya in April 2004, Abraham appointed to the external board a long-time aide-turned-lobbyist who was about to sign her biggest client: Gaddafi.

Former international policy adviser Randa Fahmy Hudome, whose contract with the Libyan leader calls for her to work to "strengthen Libya's interests," is still a member of the board, the highest-ranking in the department. The board reports directly to the energy secretary, who was charged with overseeing the dismantling of Libya's nuclear arms program.

Libya's main goal, like the oil lobby's, is now to get Tripoli removed from the U.S. terrorism list and get Congress to authorize U.S. taxpayer-backed loans to help finance U.S. oil projects in Libya.

Libya's top envoy in Washington, Ali Aujali, told Reuters that Tripoli was hopeful its lobbyist's connections would help achieve those goals, and said prospects were very promising for Occidental Petroleum Corp., the oil company that was forced to suspend operations in Libya when sanctions were imposed in 1986.


Abraham stepped down as energy secretary on Jan. 31 and within weeks Occidental chief executive Ray Irani, whom Abraham had also appointed to the Energy Department's advisory board, asked him to join Occidental's board of directors.

Libya is one of Irani's top priorities and days after Bush lifted a travel ban, Irani flew to Tripoli to lay out his plans to Gaddafi in person. Since then, the company has been the most aggressive in signing new oil contracts there.

Formally elected to the Occidental board earlier this month, Abraham is expected to be paid a retainer of more than $50,000 per year, plus an annual grant of at least 2,500 Occidental shares, now worth nearly $170,000, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing. If Occidental wins more Libyan oil contracts as expected, Abraham would benefit from any resulting stock gains.

Fahmy Hudome's one-year $1.47 million consulting agreement with Libya took effect just six weeks after her May 14, 2004, two-year appointment to the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board, according to administration officials and records she filed with a Justice Department unit that monitors the lobbying activities of foreign governments and entities.

In the first six months after signing the agreement, records show she met with or contacted high-level administration and congressional officials at least 25 times about Libya's interests. The contacts included McMonigle, Undersecretary for Economic Affairs Alan Larson and Bush's top Middle East policy adviser at the National Security Council, Elliott Abrams.


Energy Department spokesman Mike Waldron said, "It's the department's understanding... that Ms. Hudome is in no way in violation" of federal laws that govern advisory boards, and that her appointment came before she became Libya's lobbyist and was based on her earlier international policy experience.

Waldron added that the board has not had a formal meeting since her appointment in May 2004 and that Fahmy Hudome has not contacted the new Energy Secretary, Sam Bodman, "on any matter." However, he said, Bodman has been in the process of reviewing the board's membership.

Fahmy Hudome, who was associate deputy secretary of energy until June 30, 2003, did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment.

Her appointment to the advisory board came after Gaddafi's December 2003 surprise pledge to dismantle all of his country's nuclear, chemical and biological programs -- an announcement that provided an election-year boost to Bush, who was under fire for failing to find banned weapons in Iraq.

Although Bush left in place some terrorism-related restrictions on Libya, his lifting of most commercial sanctions in April 2004 and formal ending of a U.S. trade embargo in September cleared the way for U.S. firms to invest in Libya and buy its oil for the first time since 1986.

In a statement to Reuters, Abraham said, "The Department of Energy's role with respect to Libya was to implement and verify the dismantlement of Libya's nuclear weapons program, and I am very proud to have overseen my department's successful completion of that mission."

"With regard to my recent election to the board of Occidental Petroleum Corporation, I can state that the subject of Libya was never, to my knowledge, raised in any context during the period in which I was being considered for a position on the board," he added.

It is common practice in both Republican and Democratic administrations for policy makers to take lobbying jobs or seats on corporate boards once they leave office.

The Brookings Institution's Paul Light, a professor of public service at New York University said this may be common and legal but raises ethical questions.

"When the public hears the former secretary of energy is on the board of a company with interests in Libya, it increases the public view that this is all about the intimate connections between political appointees and their agencies, and doesn't increase confidence in government one bit," he said.


Lawrence Meriage, Occidental's spokesman, said the Los Angeles-based oil company was "already moving forward" with activities in Libya before Abraham's appointment to the board.

Aujali, the chief of the Libyan Liaison Office in Washington, called Occidental's prospects in the Libyan oil market "very promising," especially with "someone who is familiar with the oil industry like Secretary Abraham."

Abraham's former chief of staff, McMonigle, played down Abraham's role in the administration's deliberations over lifting the sanctions, saying: "We're not really the policy makers."

But Susan Cohen, whose daughter was among the 270 killed in the 1988 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, accused Abraham of benefiting directly from the removal of sanctions and said he should step down from the Occidental board.

"All these people like Spencer Abraham and this lobbyist care about is money, not safety, not protecting Americans from terrorism," Cohen said.

Aujali said that Tripoli knew about Fahmy Hudome's connections to Abraham before hiring her, and when asked if he thought those connections would benefit Tripoli's outreach in Washington, replied, "We hope so."

Rosemary Wolfe, whose stepdaughter died in the Lockerbie bombing, called the Energy Department's decision to keep Fahmy Hudome on the advisory board "outrageous."

"If it isn't a conflict of interest, then there's something wrong with the way the energy policy board was shaped in the first place," Wolfe said.

Jill Schuker, a former Clinton administration official hired by Fahmy Hudome as a consultant on the Libya deal, said the administration's efforts have rid Libya of banned weapons and helped shut down a major nuclear arms black market.

"It's an understandably emotional issue for the families. But you have to always look at this in geopolitical terms and what it means for the bottom line for U.S. national interests and global security," she said.


Libya's Aujali said keeping Libya on the terrorism list was a "blight" on U.S.-Libyan relations, and an "obstacle for the American companies" like Occidental.

He brushed aside U.S. concerns about an alleged Libyan plot to kill Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, saying, "It is the past, the history, doesn't help us go further."

"This is the first time for Libya to hire a lobbyist," said Aujali. "If you want to work in Washington, you need somebody to help you, especially if you are away for the last 25 years. We're just starting."

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