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January 3, 2018

Lobbying firm hired to target CPEC in European Parliament

National

January 3, 2018

LONDON: A group called Baloch Voice Association (BVA) has hired an influential lobbying firm to arrange a conference on Balochistan in the European Parliament against the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) but the lobbying firm has not disclosed the amount paid to it in the European Union’s Transparency Register.

This correspondent has seen evidence showing that the BVA, whose president is France-based Munir Ahmed Mengal, made payments to influential lobbying firm Kreab, which specialised in strategic communications consultancy and has offices in over three dozen countries, to arrange conference in the European Parliament which is scheduled to take place this month featuring Khan of Khalat, Mir Sileman Dawood Jan, as the main guest.

Interestingly, the lobbying firm didn’t declare details of the payments it received in the Transparency Register until contacted by The News to ask about the source of funding, nature of the contract and the received amount. A trusted Baloch source said that the lobbying firm has been paid in cash to arrange the conference and “to look after the European Parliament members”.

Emails sent by the BVA’s President Munir Mengal to the lobbying firm to organise the conference inside the European Parliament stated that the conference will be titled “Why Balochistan matters: Implications of China’s One Belt One Road policy on the Baloch community” and its impacts on “the future of the regional and international communities; concerns etc against CPEC”.

The email said: “Baloch Voice Association needs your kind support to organise this conference” and “Baloch Voice Association and Baloch European Diaspora will bear the expanses of this conference”.

It then went on to make the financial offer for those who will attend the conference and will give supporting views: “The Baloch Diaspora in Europe will be able to give donation for your party.”

The lobbying firm then sent dozens of email invitations to influential EU parliamentarians stating that it was acting on behalf of the “Baloch Voice Association, a non-governmental organisation which aims to defend and pursue respect of human rights for the citizens of Balochistan”.

The lobbying firm then explained in its correspondence that object of the conference isabout the CPEC. “As you are already aware, the territory, a province of Pakistan, has become an important economic and strategic hub for the country. However, the existing infrastructural projects and related investments enrich only central administrations and do not bring any benefit to the Balochistan region or community, which is deprived of its most basic needs. In an effort to raise awareness around these issues, the BVA is organising a European Parliament event and would be pleased if you would accept to host it.”

The lobbying firm informed the MEPs that its representatives would like to meet them to brief them further about the conference and to take care of any other aspects of the conference. The lobbying firm confirmed that the conference on “China’s One Belt One Road Policy” will be attended by a “diverse range of speakers, including Baloch academics, NGOs, MEPs and His Excellency, Khan of Khalat, Mir Sileman Dawood Jan”, followed by a networking dinner.

The European Union’s Transparency Register, run by the Joint Transparency Register Secretariat (JTRS), shows that Baloch Voice Association registered itself towards the end of 2015. Munir Ahmed Mengal, a long time ally of the Khan of Kalat, is registered as its President who is based out of France. The website says that the BVA “brings the concerns of oppressed persons and communities particularly of South Asia to the attention of the decision makers in the EU”.

In the financial declaration, the BVA gives estimate of the annual costs related to activities at around 56,800 €. It says its total budget till the end of 2016 was 56,800 € - of which 5,300 € was contributions from members and 51,500 € came from Baloch Voice Foundation.

When contacted, Karl Isaksson, spokesman for the Kreab, told The News: “We help the BVA to arrange a conference in the European Parliament, as a one-off project. Hence the contacts with MEPs. It will be reported in the Transparency register when it is updated with the 2017 information.” He said that the conference is “still in the planning phase, we’re aiming for a date in Q1 next year”. Muneer Mengal was sent questions but didn’t respond in three days.

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