Libyan Colonel Muammar Qaddafi has never been to Washington. But that hasn't kept the leader of the once-rogue nation from making his voice heard in true American fashion: through a team of hired guns.
Libya, perhaps most reviled for its downing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, has taken steps in the past few years to legitimize itself. The country has paid millions to the families of Lockerbie passengers, and it shut down its program for weapons of mass destruction. In turn, the U.S. has lifted sanctions and set the stage for the return to Libya of American businesses, including oil and aerospace concerns.
But Libya still has a long way to go. ``The experience, the technology, and the economy of the U.S. will be very important to us,'' says Abdul Hamid Yahya, Libya's deputy ambassador in Washington. And that's where Libya's private-sector diplomatic corps comes in.
In 2004 the country began shopping for Washington hands. Former Senator Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and Greenberg Traurig, Jack Abramoff's former firm, vied for the work. The country opted for operatives with low profiles but deep connections in Washington's Arab circles.
One of the first hired was Fahmy Hudome International, founded by Randa Fahmy Hudome, a well-connected Arab American Republican and a former Associate Deputy Secretary of Energy in the second Bush Administration. Fahmy Hudome says she played a role in efforts to remove Libya from the U.S. terrorist list. Justice Dept. records show that in the past year she has also met on Libya's behalf with staff on the Senate Foreign Relations and House International Relations committees.
Fahmy Hudome subcontracted some lobbying work to JAS International, run by Jill A. Schuker, a former director of communications at the National Security Council during the Clinton years.
Meanwhile, C&O Resources Inc. has been the country's political tour guide. Chief Executive Sandra L. Charles set up meetings in March for Dr. Omran Bukhres, a Libyan American working on restructuring the Libyan economy, with Vice-President Dick Cheney's staff at the White House. Charles had earlier advised the Libyans on the benefits of demonstrating a commitment to economic and political reforms. ``When I talk to people in the Administration about Libya, everybody is keen to see reform,'' Charles says. Last year the Libyans organized a women's empowerment seminar in Tripoli.
The three small firms have reaped big money: C&O Resources billed almost $400,000 in its first year. Fahmy Hudome was paid $375,000, Schuker $120,000. The road ahead is not clear. In 2006, C&O Resources and Fahmy Hudome International have worked without contracts -- and without pay. ``We have no reason to believe they won't make good on it at some point,'' Charles says.
But Libya seems to be reevaluating its options. ``They still have a relationship with us, and they hope it will continue,'' says Libya's Yahya. ``The reality now is that the contract is expired.''
By Eamon Javers