”Glitz and Glamor” with Taxpayers Money...

Bulgarian Minister of Tourism Hired Expensive US Lobbyists, Ministry Denies It

USD 500 per email to set up useless meetings before going to “The Oscars”

“The Bulgarian Ministry of Tourism has hired lobbying companies in the United States to arrange via email meetings with politicians, foundations and media for Minister Nikolina Angelkova. They have received a minimum of USD 10,000 for their services. The Ministry denies having paid lobbyists, despite the public documents on an official US site.

Bulgarian ministers often visit the United States, but only Nikolina Angelkova has wasted so much on tasks that are usually performed by employees of the Bulgarian embassy. For her working visit to Washington DC in February 2018, Bulgarian taxpayers have had to shell

USD 500 per email

This is how much the lobbying services of Glanz (means glitz, gloss in German – editor’s note) Inc. and Sanitas International cost, according to documents published by the US Department of Justice.

A report by Sanitas International on activity under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) also shows what lobbyists have done. For USD 10,601, they have sent about 20 emails and have arranged one personal meeting.

Ministry of Tourism: Glanz? Never!

The press center of the Ministry of Tourism sent a statement strongly denying having signed a contract for lobbying services with Glanz Inc., whose name appears in the published documents.

“Regarding a question concerning the relationship between the Ministry of Tourism and the company Glanz Inc., we are making the following clarification: The Ministry of Tourism has never had contractual relations with the mentioned company, nor does it carry out research on a possible joint activity of a lobbying nature,” reads the answer to Bivol’s question (bolding by Bivol).

However, the press officers reveal, without being asked, how and why they have signed an advertising contract with another US company.

“In 2017, the Ministry of Tourism carried, though on a relatively modest scale, given the budget constraints and the size of the North American market, an innovative and successful campaign to promote Bulgaria as a tourist destination. The Ministry’s partner in the advertising campaign is Corner Media.”

The detailed answer (see 15-06-18 otg. Bivol), reveals further in the text that Corner Media has been paid money for an advertising campaign in the United States for the period from September 1 to October 27, 2017, that is, a long time before Angelkova’s visit. The amount of the contract is unknown.

The Prime Minister’s office did not respond to the questions asked by Bivol.

Weird ghost companies

The document with which Glanz Inc. and Sanitas International have announced their agreement with the Ministry of Tourism of Bulgaria are signed by Christopher Harvin for Sanitas International and Bruce Fryer for Glanz Inc..

However, an inquiry in business registries indicates that Glanz Inc. and Corner Media have the same owners and that Corner Media is actually the new name of Glanz.Tv. The company has indeed listed outdoor advertising as an activity but has never engaged in lobbying.

Glanz Inc. is explicitly mentioned in the lobbying agreement in favor of the Ministry of Tourism of Bulgaria

The attempts of a Bivol’s correspondent in Washington to contact Corner Media or Glanz Inc. proved unsuccessful. Most of the contact numbers listed on their web pages (see here and here), as well as in the White Pages, are not active.

Glanz Inc.’s headquarters are in the offshore state of Delaware, but companies linked to it, with similar names and same owners have been registered simultaneously in several states in virtual offices – shell companies. They are all undetectable. In business registries, companies under the Glanz brand boast a variety of activities, ranging from developing groundbreaking graphene batteries to outdoor advertising.

It remains a mystery how the Ministry of Tourism has been able to establish business relations with Corner Media in 2017, and on what grounds in 2018 Glanz Inc., a related company, has conducted a lobbying campaign especially since the Ministry categorically denies having even explored the possibility of such a campaign, and Glanz is not its contractor.

Illegal lobbying for Hungary, Bulgaria and Azerbaijan

Sanitas International was registered as a lobbyist company on March 7, 2018. Four Sanitas International lobbying contracts have been recorded on the same day and with the same registration number (6530) number – with Bulgaria, Hungary, Azerbaijan and one with the private company Aeromax.

Similarly to Sanitas’s registration, all four applications were filed in violation of the law because the ten-day deadline since the beginning of the lobbying activity had expired. In addition, the mandatory disclosure information, such as the amount of the contract, is missing.

In the case of Bulgaria, the activities started on February 15 and ended on February 28, while Sanitas’ declaration was filed only on March 7, long after the mandatory ten-day deadline.

The lobbying operation in favor of the Hungarian government is from the beginning of 2018.

BSI Public Affairs, helmed by Tzvika Brot and Ariel Sender, is paying Christopher Harvin of Sanitas International to cultivate relationships with American government officials on Hungary’s behalf. Though federal law requires that lobbyists alert the Justice Department within 10 days when they sign to work for a foreign government, Sanitas waited months to give notice. According to a filing with the Justice Department, Harvin signed with BSI on Oct. 3, 2017, but didn’t alert the Department of Justice until March 7, 2018 (PDF).

That belated filing is also missing information it’s mandated to include. While it says BSI is paying Harvin, it doesn’t say how much and when,“ writes Daily Beast.

The published document reveals that the Hungarian embassy has paid Sanitas USD 15,000 for strategic advice and analysis.

Lobbying in favor of Azerbaijan was done a few days before the start of Angelkova’s campaign. In this activity, the lobbying firm BGR Group has been Sanitas’ intermediary.

The firm, also identified as BGR Government Affairs, is known for defending the interests of controversial Bulgarian lawmaker, businessman and media mogul Delyan Peevski in the US against the claim of fugitive banker Tsvetan Vassilev’s under the Magnitsky Act.

Peevski pays through the law firm Aviora Consult USD 30,000 a month, while Tsvetan Vassilev is paying “only” USD 25,000 every three months.

Angelkova’s lobbyists’ fee is comparable to that of Peevski – USD 10,000 for ten days, however, too little has been achieved.

The Ministry of Tourism claims that Corner Media, with which it has signed an advertising contract in 2017, also had to record this contract under FARA. However, such a declaration has not been filed at all.

Our attempts to contact Sanitas International for a comment were unsuccessful. An answering machine responds when the phone number listed on the site is dialed, and the emails that we sent remain unanswered.

“I am at the Oscars”

It is not clear how many of the meetings set up for Minister Angelkova have materialized. Her visit to Washington was presented as a “two-day working” trip, and all meetings reported by the Ministry of Tourism’s press center were held on 22, 23 and 24 February.

There are also documented visits to the Carnegie Foundation, the NED Foundation, the European Policy Analysis Center, the World Affairs Councils of America (WACA), and several conversations with not very well-known politicians.

Sanitas International’s lobbying report, however, lists an active “courting” of congressman Joe Wilson, and a personal meeting with him was held on February 26, after the end of Angelkova’s working visit.

There is no evidence that Angelkova had met Wilson in February. There is also no confirmed information that she was in Bulgaria after February 24. The next official appearance of the Minister was on March 7 in Berlin.

However, at the beginning of March, she was spotted in Los Angeles at the Oscars awards ceremony.

Regarding Angelkova’s visit to Los Angeles, the press center of the Ministry of Tourism says it was “at her personal expense and on the invitation of actress and producer Gisella Marengo.

In one of the photos from the ceremony, Angelkova is posing with Marengo, and in the aftermath, she received praise from lifestyle magazines for wearing a stylish outfit. The Minister, herself, did not miss the opportunity to boast of the photo-op on social networks by linking her personal presence at the glamor ceremony with her official US trip.

It is obvious, however, that the ticket for the overseas flight was not paid as “personal expenses” by Angelkova. She has traveled to Washington and back for a working visit in her capacity of Bulgarian government official. The trip, though, has concluded with a very arguable benefit and has eventually been unnecessarily expensive because of the lobbying contract.

The (un)necessary “glitzy” intermediary

From what has been said and is known so far, it is unclear what is Glanz Inc.’s role and how it relates to the payments by the Bulgarian Ministry to its Corner Media “avatar”.

Why has it been necessary to use the advertising company Glanz Inc., which in turn has hired Sanitas and has therefore increased the cost of the service by using an intermediary?

How much has been paid to Corner Media for the advertising campaign and why it had not registered the contract under FARA and had not filed the mandatory declaration?

How much did the Ministry pay Glanz Inc. and why is it now denying the obvious fact that it has paid for a lobbying campaign?

Is it customary to pay ten thousand dollars for a few emails that can also be prepared by the Washington embassy employees as this is part of their job description?

And what will happen if the US authorities declare these advertising and lobbying payments by Angelkova illegal?

Angelkova owes specific answers to these not so glossy and glamorous questions.


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