US prosecutors target Rajapaksa-era Lanka lobbyist in Trump probe | Sunday Observer

US prosecutors target Rajapaksa-era Lanka lobbyist in Trump probe

In August 2015, Foreign Policy Magazine exposed Imaad Zuberi’s Rajapaksa Government connection in a story titled Elite Fundraiser for Obama and Clinton Linked to Justice Department Probe . The report cited former Monitoring MP to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sajin Vaas Gunewardane as being a key player in dealings between the LA based influence-peddler and President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Government.
In August 2015, Foreign Policy Magazine exposed Imaad Zuberi’s Rajapaksa Government connection in a story titled Elite Fundraiser for Obama and Clinton Linked to Justice Department Probe . The report cited former Monitoring MP to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sajin Vaas Gunewardane as being a key player in dealings between the LA based influence-peddler and President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Government.

A controversial, Los Angeles based, self-styled philanthropist who was awarded a US $8 million lobbying and consulting contract by the Rajapaksa regime in 2014, is now in the crosshairs of American federal prosecutors under suspicion of having funneled up to US $1 million in foreign money to the inauguration fund of US President Donald Trump, and to the Republican National Committee.

Several US print and electronic media outlets reported that on Monday (4) the Trump Inauguration Committee had received a wide-ranging subpoena, or court order, from US prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, seeking “an array of documents, including all information related to inaugural donors, vendors, contractors, bank accounts of the inaugural committee and all information related to foreign contributors to the committee,” according to the Washington Post.

The subpoena specifically seeks all communications with one specific donor, California resident Imaad Zuberi and a firm affiliated to Zuberi, Avenue Ventures, which donated US $900,000 to the inaugural committee, according to official records.

Zuberi is known in Sri Lanka as the ultimate beneficiary of a “Contract for consulting services” entered into between the US-based WR Group LLC and former President’s Secretary Lalith Weeratunga on behalf of the Central Bank on April 26, 2014. Per the terms of the contract, WR Group would be paid US $8.5 million over six months for “strategic advice” and the “identification of consultants or other legal or non-legal advisors”. Of payments under the contract totaling over US $6.5 million, US $ 4.5 million was credited to Zuberi’s personal bank account.

Investigations by Sunday Observer have established that WR Group LLC is a shell company in similar vein to the “MiG Deal” vehicle Bellimissa Holdings Limited. WR Group was first incorporated in the US state of Delaware on September 25, 2003 under file number 3708357 with minimal share capital. The registered address used by the company in US government filings, including local incorporation filings with the District of Columbia Government and foreign agent registration filings with the Justice Department’s National Security Division, was a bogus mail forwarding address in Washington D.C. reminiscent of the fictitious London address used by Bellimissa Holdings in the ‘MiG Deal’.

Several dozen entities lay claim to the same address of “WR Group LLC”, at Suite 300, 1629 K Street NW, in Washington D.C. These organisations include Friends of the Congo, the Institute of Caribbean Studies, Josifi Investigations, Black Business Empowerment, a Wedded Bliss Foundation, Conflict Solutions International, Mouthpiece Enterprises, Americans for Democratic Action, Creating Lift Leadership, and several purported law, jet charter and consultancy firms. Many of these entities appear to be bogus in nature.

The front-man for Zuberi and WR Group LLC in filings with both the US and Sri Lankan Government was 46-year-old American citizen named Mark Adam Skarulis of 624/1/2 Vincent Park, Redondo Beach, California. According to a US government filing made by Skarulis in September 2015, WR Group LLC did not perform any “direct lobbying or PR activities” but only funded “Beltway Government Strategies activities for the benefit of the government of Sri Lanka.” This filing made no reference to the fact that “Beltway Government Strategies” was another entity controlled by Skarulis himself.

Several elements of these contractual arrangements and filings have given rise to suspicion of a potential money laundering arrangement. For example, it is not clear why Zuberi was the beneficiary of the payments from the Central Bank in its contract with WR Group LLC. According to a report filed by Zuberi with the US Justice Department’s National Security Division, he “received funds from the Government of Sri Lanka on 9 May 2014”, which he then funneled to “Beltway Government Strategies”. According to the filing, Zuberi “did not engage in activities in furtherance of the interests of Sri Lanka after September 2014.” It is not clear how much of the $4.5 million paid to Zuberi by the Sri Lankan government was transferred to Beltway Government Strategies or WR Group LLC.

According to a review of US government filings, no foreign government other than Sri Lanka has ever contracted the services of WR Group LLC, Beltway Government Strategies or Mark Adam Skarulis. It is typical for individuals and entities legitimately engaged in such services to have multiple foreign clients, or to have been established with the support of a strong diaspora community based in the United States. The address on file for Beltway Government Strategies is also a bogus mail forwarding or ‘virtual office’ address similar to that of WR Group LLC.

US government filings indicate that several other entities, including Nevada based “R&R Partners LLC”, and New York-based “Vigilant Worldwide Communications” were subcontracted by Skarulis’ company on behalf of the government of Sri Lanka, and paid monthly retainers of up to US $75,000 per month for vaguely defined consulting services.

In similar vein to WR Group and Beltway Government Strategies, neither R&R Partners nor Vigilant Worldwide Communications were retained to perform services for any foreign government except for the Government of Sri Lanka.

US government prosecutors in New York and the Office of the Special Counsel who are examining foreign interference in the 2016 Presidential election in that country, are seeking to determine whether US persons, including Imaad Zuberi, were used as “straw men” to funnel foreign donations to the presidential campaigns or inauguration fund of President Donald Trump.

Zuberi is reported to have met with Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen at the 2017 inauguration ceremony, to discuss funding for a real estate project with the Qatari sovereign wealth fund. Cohen has since pleaded guilty to multiple crimes and is cooperating with the US Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), Special Counsel’s office and other US prosecutors in a slew of criminal investigations.

It is unclear to what extent, if any, the funds Zuberi received from the Sri Lankan Government, feature in the scope of this investigation. Zuberi was previously investigated by the Justice Department for failing to disclose his work on behalf of Sri Lanka as required by the US Foreign Agents Registration (FARA) Act.

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