US PR chief allegedly linked to Qatar World Cup 'dirty tricks' campaign and Syria work

A senior US-based PR executive has been in the news for his alleged involvement in a 'dirty tricks' campaign that helped secure the 2022 World Cup for Qatar, and separate work to improve the image of the Assad regime in Syria.

©GettyImages
©GettyImages

The Sunday Times identified Michael Holtzman, president of PR agency BLJ Worldwide in New York, as the sender of an email to a senior adviser to the Qatari bid team.

According to the newspaper, Holtzman’s email alluded to BLJ Worldwide’s successes in recruiting academics and journalists in America and Australia "to promote negative aspects of their respective bids in the media". Fifa’s rules say bidders should avoid "any written or oral statements of any kind, whether adverse or otherwise, about the bids or candidatures of any other member association".

Lord Triesman, former chairman of the Football Association, is among those calling for action. He is quoted widely in the media, saying: "If Qatar is shown to have broken the FIFA rules, then they can’t hold on to the World Cup."

Separately, The Times this morning says Holtzman was employed by the Office of the First Lady of the Syrian Arab Republic in 2010.

The newspaper alleges he was paid $5,000 a month in his role and helped arrange a 'fawning' interview with Asma al-Assad, wife of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, for Vogue that was later deleted from the magazine’s website.

PRWeek this morning contacted the New York and London offices of BLJ Worldwide, but had received no response at the time of publication.

However, The Times said BLJ London told the newspaper it had no involvement with the work on the Qatar bid and was going through a demerger from the New York office at the time.

According to its website, BLJ Worldwide also has offices in Washington DC and Doha, employing more than 100 people and representing a variety of clients, including governments, Fortune 500 companies, financial institutions, NGOs and individuals.

PRWeek reported in 2011 that in its former guise of Brown Lloyd James, the agency pushed out media statements on behalf of the Mail on Sunday dubbing allegations of phone-hacking 'mendacious smears'.

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