WASHINGTON: Qorvis Communications is expressing confidence that it will soon be cleared of any wrongdoing stemming from a recent federal probe into its work with the royal family of Saudi Arabia.
The FBI raided three Qorvis offices earlier this month and issued a subpoena for a fourth, according to The Washington Post.
A Qorvis spokesperson told PRWeek, "We understand that the government is conducting an inquiry into FARA [Foreign Agents Registration Act] compliance. Qorvis has fully complied with this registration statute, and we feel confident this will be resolved favorably."
FARA stipulates that virtually all manner of correspondence involving a foreign government be submitted to the Department of Justice (DoJ).
According to Newsweek, the investigation focuses on allegations that the Saudis used Qorvis to deceptively finance an advertising campaign promoting Crown Prince Abdullah's Middle East peace plan. The article suggests that Qorvis is believed to have made false statements to the DoJ regarding the matter.
This is not the first time the account, which Qorvis assumed after September 11, 2001, at an average fee of $200,000 per-month, has created controversy.
The New York Sun published an article on August 10 entitled, "The Saudis' Covert PR Campaign," which alleged the country covertly paid Middle East experts on its behalf to educate Americans about US and Saudi relations. Saudi Arabia and Qorvis denied this allegation.
In 2002, Congress demanded that the agency hand over documents related to an investigation involving missing American children in Saudi Arabia. Qorvis president Michael Petruzzello refused, citing diplomatic privilege. Around that time, founding partners Judy Smith, Jim Weber, and Bernie Merritt left the firm for Omnicom's Clark & Weinstock, citing the Saudi account as a primary factor.
"(Saudi Arabia) is a very dominating client, and we don't want to be only in that public affairs space," Merritt told PRWeek in 2002 upon leaving.
Robert Rehg, an Edelman Washington, DC-based GM, said the Qorvis account is atypical in size, scope, and magnitude.
?Programs don?t usually run six-figures on a monthly basis,? Rehg said. ?I?m sure it makes it more complicated.?
Rehg said that in addition to the original filing of an account, PR firms have to file any press release within 48 hours prior to dissemination. Firms also have to file supplemental forms that detail any activity done on behalf of the client, including any meetings the agency arranges on behalf of the client.
Rehg was unaware of Qorvis? activities, but said that Edelman typically handles media relations, such as producing materials and working with spokespeople to get the country?s message across.
Another PR person familiar with FARA called the procedure time-consuming and complicated.
The act, originally created in 1938 for counterespionage against Nazi agents, is normally directed towards lobbyists, but DC-based PR agencies sometimes offer counsel to foreign governments. A number of PR firms are listed on the FARA website the DOJ maintains. For instance, APCO gave strategic advice and counsel to the Bolivian government, concerning trade and foreign policy issues in 2002; and the Daniel J. Edelman company, parent of Edelman, gave the government of Angola advice and counsel on marketing materials, while fielding incoming calls from the media in 2002.
Press releases from the government have to have disclaimers like this one: "This press release is distributed by Qorvis Communications on behalf of the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia. Additional information is available at the Department of Justice in Washington, DC."
Qorvis Communications also recently courted media scrutiny when leaked e-mails from speaker's bureau Leading Authorities, which was working on behalf of Qorvis, prompted accusations that the agency unethically paid for positive comments for its former client, AIG.