Controversy over the UAE hosting the COP28 climate summit
There has been widespread controversy about the COP28 summit taking place in the UAE later this year. The climate talks will be hosted in Dubai and the UAE has appointed Dr. Sultan Al Jaber as president of the summit. Dr. Al Jaber is the chairman of UAE-government owned renewable energy company Masdar and he is also the CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC).
The Washington Post described how over 130 members of Congress and the European Parliament have called for “the removal of Sultan Al Jaber as president of the next U.N. Climate Change Conference.”
“The decision to name as president of COP28 the chief executive of one of the world’s largest oil and gas companies — a company that has recently announced plans to add 7.6 billion barrels of oil to its production in the coming years, representing the fifth largest increase in the world — risks undermining the negotiations.”
As the controversy over Dr. Al Jaber as president of COP28 has grown, the UAE has launched a major PR campaign–but the campaign itself has generated even more controversy. CNN reported that:
“…researchers are raising red flags over allegations of more covert influence campaigns, as members of the COP28 team were found by the Centre for Climate Reporting and the Guardian to have been editing Wikipedia pages about the conference’s chief, and an army of fake social media accounts has appeared, promoting the country’s climate record.”
A recent FARA filing reveals that the UAE has hired a new consultant to manage communications related to the COP28 summit and as I report below, this consultant has had some controversial past clients and some interesting connections of their own.
The UAE’s new COP28 communications consultant Zev Furst
The Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company PJSC, also called Masdar, is a renewable energy company that is owned by the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), Mubadala Investment Company and Abu Dhabi National Energy Company PJSC (TAQA).
In early August Masdar filed a Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) registration statement with the U.S. Department of Justice for a contract signed with First International Resources.
The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) was enacted in 1938. FARA requires certain agents of foreign principals who are engaged in political activities or other activities specified under the statute to make periodic public disclosure of their relationship with the foreign principal, as well as activities, receipts and disbursements in support of those activities.
The Masdar filing includes the agreement signed with First International Resources, LLC as “consultant for COP28 strategic communications and positioning campaign.” There is a retainer of $100,000 per month from July through December 2023, for up to $600,000, and fees for a public opinion research program consisting of 6,600 interviews in 8 countries will be paid separately (the amount is redacted).
The agreement signed by Niall Hannigan for Masdar and Zev Furst, Chairman & CEO of First International Resources, addresses the COP28 controversy and notes that:
“The appointment of Dr. Al Jaber as President of this year’s UN climate summit has generated predictable pushback from Greens in the West.”
Some objectives of the project work include:
- To strengthen the overall reputation and standing ofthe UAE, His Excellency Dr. Sultan Al Jaber and COP28 among Western audiences.
- Leverage this enhanced reputation in order to most effectively inoculate Dr. Al Jaber and COP28 from any potential criticism and generate increased Western support for COP28 team.
The Washington Post recently reported on this FARA filing “Host of U.N. climate summit moves to ‘counteract all negative press’.” While their story described three people at First International Resources, including CEO Zev Furst, President Donny Furst and Executive Vice President Joe Shwirtz – they did not report further on the prior experience of Zev Furst.
UAE consultant Zev Furst was an ‘advisor and friend’ to Dmitry Firtash
Dmitry Firtash (aka Dymtro Firtash) is a Ukrainian oligarch who runs Group DF and earned his fortune working with Russia’s Gazprom as an intermediary reselling gas to Ukraine.
Firtash has been living in Vienna and is wanted for extradition to the U.S. for a 2013 indictment for alleged conspiracy to bribe government officials in India for licensing rights to mine titanium that was to be sold to Boeing (which was not charged in the scheme). The scheme took place from around 2006 to 2009.
One of the defendants charged with Firtash was Andras Knopp who worked for Firtash at RosUkrEnergo (RUE), a company co-owned by Firtash that was described as a front for Russian mafia boss Semion Mogilevich.
During the period of the alleged bribery scheme, Dmitry Firtash and Andras Knopp met twice with the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor. The first meeting was documented in a secret cable dated December 8, 2008 and the second meeting in a confidential cable dated March 3, 2009, which were both leaked by Wikileaks.
Both meetings with Ambassador Taylor were attended by Firtash, Knopp and Zev Furst.
Taylor’s notes from the first 2008 meeting said:
“Furst said he was attending as a “friend and advisor” to Firtash and during the course of the meeting stated that the USG might have misperceptions about Firtash. At one point during the meeting, Firtash began to talk about “mistakes he might have made,” but diverted the conversation when Furst waved him off.”
The cable includes a description of a meeting Firtash attended with notorious Russian mob boss Semyon Mogilevich, and noted that:
“Firtash’s bottom line was that he did not deny having links to those associated with organized crime. Instead, he argued that he was forced into dealing with organized crime members including Mogilevich or he would never have been able to build a business.”
Zev Furst also attended the second meeting with Firtash, Knopp and Ambassador Taylor:
“As in the previous meeting with the Ambassador, AmCit political consultant Zev Furst accompanied Firtash, as did Andraf Knopp. Neither Firtash nor Furst passed on any requests to the Ambassador, and it now is apparent that Firtash hoped to use the meeting to set the record straight (in his view) and rebrand himself in the eyes of the USG. While some of his claims are clearly false (RUE is certainly not a loss-making venture, but a cash cow and a serious source of corruption and political patronage), his insights into the Russia/Ukraine gas crisis are noteworthy. ”
During the 2008 to 2009 period when Furst was described as a friend and advisor to Firtash, he had separate ties with Andras Knopp. From 2008 until 2010 Furst and Knopp were board members of Global Metro City, The Glocal Forum in Zurich.
Dmitry Firtash was reported on during the Mueller investigation because of his ties to Donald Trump’s first campaign manager Paul Manafort. In 2008 Firtash helped fund early plans for CMZ Ventures, a company co-owned by Paul Manafort, to purchase the Drake Hotel in New York City. While the deal failed, Firtash reportedly wired $25 million to CMZ Ventures.
Firtash was in the news more recently related to the scheme by Rudy Giuliani and his associate Lev Parnas to dig up dirt on Biden in Ukraine. Firtash hired Parnas as an interpreter and as this chart shows has links to many people working with Giuliani and affiliated to Trump.
Other prior work and petroleum related business links
The bio for Zev Furst notes that “In 1986, Mr Furst was a founding partner of Meridian Resources and Development Ltd, an international commodities trading company specialising in chemicals and petroleum products.”
A New York State tax tribunal document on petitions of Joseph Macchia and Lawrence Macchia cites Meridian Resources and Development Ltd. (“Meridian”) over 40 times, and mentions the “name Zev Furst, identified with Meridian Resources.”
In 1994 Joseph Macchia and his sons Lawrence and George pleaded guilty to various charges in the largest gasoline excise tax case ever prosecuted at the time, for conspiring to evade approximately $85 million in federal gasoline excise taxes. The Macchias sold almost one billion gallons of gasoline to unregistered companies without paying tax. Many of the unregistered companies were owned by Marat Balagula, who was a major Russian-American organized crime figure. Note that there is no indication that Meridian Resources or Zev Furst was involved in any criminal activity or wrongdoing of any kind.
From 2003 to 2004 Zev Furst and his company First International Resources represented Russia’s Lukoil in the U.S.
A 2003 article reported “Russian President Putin Opens Lukoil Station in N.Y.” and quotes “Zev Furst, of Lukoil USA.” A 2004 Forbes story Putin at the Pump described how Lukoil won a $270 million bid to buy hundreds of gas stations on the east coast in the U.S. and mentioned “Joseph Shwirtz of First International Resources, a Fort Lee, New Jersey communications firm hired by Lukoil to do market research.”
A 2021 story in the New York Times on Farhad Azima, who owned airlines, popped up in the Iran-Contra affair and was involved in an underground hacking industry, described his ties to Khater Massaad. The story notes that authorities in Ras al Khaymah in the UAE had accused Massaad of misappropriating $2 billion (Massaad denied any wrongdoing). In 2017 he was convicted by an emirate court in absentia and sentenced to 15 years in jail in a $17.2 million embezzlement case.
From 2011 to 2019 Zev Furst was a board director of Cadogan Petroleum, a U.K. based company with major assets in Ukraine. In 2018 Furst was the Non-Executive Chairman of Cadogan per their annual report and the largest owner, with a stake of 28.5%, was SPQR Capital Holdings owned by Bertrand des Pallieres, who is a board member of crypto mining company Bitfury.
There is no indication of any wrongdoing of any kind. However, over the years, Zev Furst has worked with some controversial clients including Firtash, Lukoil, Massaad and now UAE-owned Masdar.