by Hans Bader
The Washington Free Beacon reports that the Democratic candidate for governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe, was hit with a campaign finance complaint on Friday over a $350,000 donation he received from a foreign-owned company linked to overseas money laundering probe.
The National Legal and Policy Center requested that the FEC “promptly investigate” whether the donation to McAuliffe violated federal statutes prohibiting political campaigns from accepting donations from foreign nationals.
“Terry McAuliffe has a history of accepting foreign contributions. The FEC must fully investigate these serious charges that he accepted $350,000 in illegal foreign contributions for his current campaign,” said NLPC lawyer Paul Kamenar.
LycaTel LLC gave McAuliffe $350,000 in July. The company is a New Jersey subsidiary of a Sri Lankan national’s England-based telecom conglomerate, which has been the subject of fraud and money-laundering charges in France.
Federal law prohibits political campaigns from accepting money from foreign nationals and firms, directly or indirectly, in either state or federal elections. While U.S.-based subsidiaries of foreign firms are allowed to make donations, the contribution can’t be made under the direction of the company’s foreign leadership — a distinction that is easily circumvented, allowing the law to be flouted.
“This is effectively a really easy way to launder foreign money into the U.S. political process and to avoid the FEC prohibition on foreign nationals making contributions in U.S. elections,” said Ben Freeman, director of the Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative.
In July, LycaTel hired Washington lobbyist Robert Thompson to lobby on “Telecom” issues. Earlier, Thompson had registered as a foreign agent for Subaskaran to help with its “business expansion within the U.S.A.” Thompson was a lobbyist for Sri Lanka’s government from 2013 to 2014.
As the Free Beacon notes:
, through his WWW Holding Company and other entities, owns a globe-spanning web of companies in the technology, media, and gaming sectors, many of them with the word “Lyca” in the names. The Lyca group has clashed with British authorities over allegations of unpaid taxes. French authorities in 2016 raided LycaMobile’s Paris headquarters and arrested “19 people suspected of being involved in a money-laundering system implicating Lycamobile and Lycamobile Services,” according to a statement from French prosecutors.
LycaMobile couriers in 2015 were photographed transporting tote bags of cash —reportedly as much as $1 million per week — to various post offices around the United Kingdom, according to a series of articles by BuzzFeed…. LycaTel’s operations in the United States have come under scrutiny as well. The Federal Communications Commission in 2011 fined the company $5 million for “deceptively marketing prepaid calling cards” to largely immigrant buyers. The company reportedly claimed the low-cost cards could be used to make “hundreds of minutes of calls” overseas, but buyers were only able to use “a fraction of those minutes for calls, because LycaTel applies a variety of fees and surcharges that quickly deplete the card,” said the FCC.
Hans Bader is an attorney living in Northern Virginia. This column was originally posted at Liberty Unyielding.