Russian gas company hires D.C. lobbyists

Major shareholder is part of Putin's 'inner circle'

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Russia’s largest privately held gas producer has turned to a Washington, D.C., public relations firm to lobby the administration and Congress after one of its largest shareholders, an associate of Russian president Vladimir Putin, was targeted for sanctions by the United States.

OAO Novatek, the Moscow-based gas company, in July hired QorvisMSL LLC, which assigned two of its lobbyists to the account, according to a lobbying disclosure statement filed Aug. 11 with the Senate. On its website, Qorvis says it “crafts stories that need to be heard, champions issues that need to be debated, and manages reputations for corporations, governments and individuals.” Among its other clients are Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Sri Lanka and Bahrain. The news was first reported by the National Journal.

According to the filing, the lobbyists assigned to OAO Novatek’s account are Loretta Prencipe, a former contract communications analyst with the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and Ayal Frank, who spent five years as a staffer for the House of Representatives, including on the House Armed Services Committee for former Rep. Jim Maloney, D-Conn. Prencipe did not comment after being contacted by the Center, while Frank would not respond to questions.

Qorvis did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

One of OAO Novatek’s largest shareholders is Gennady Timchenko, according to Reuters, whose longtime association with Putin goes back to their days as sparring partners in St. Petersburg’s Yawara-Neva judo club. The State Department has termed Timchenko a member of Putin’s “inner circle.” According to Forbes magazine, Timchenko is worth $14.5 billion.

The two lobbyists are targeting a White House executive order, issued March 20, that authorized the Treasury Department to put Timchenko and his companies on the sanctions list, according to the Qorvis filing. The lobbyists will also focus on a bill introduced by Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., that would mandate more punitive measures against Russia and its assets, the filing said.

The U.S. imposed sanctions and other restrictions against Russia earlier this year for that country’s alleged role in the unrest in eastern Ukraine. Timchenko sold his stake in another firm, the Gunvor Group, one of the world’s largest energy traders, on March 19, one day before he was placed under sanctions. In April, fourteen of Timchenko’s other companies were sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury.

On July 17, the U.S. imposed more sanctions against Russian firms, including Timchenko’s Novatek, along with the oil giant Rosneft and one of Russia’s largest banks, Gazprombank.