One of President Obama’s most senior advisers accepted $100,000 in exchange for speaking to a company doing business with Iran, the Washington Post reported Sunday night.
In the interim between running Obama’s 2008 campaign and joining the White House as a senior adviser in January 2011, David Plouffe accepted a $100,000 payment from a telecommunications company conducting business with Iran’s government. That business may include monitoring the behavior of Iranian dissidents on the government’s behalf.
In December 2010, Plouffe was paid for two speeches he made in Nigeria to “a subsidiary of MTN Group,” which “had been in a widely reported partnership for five years with a state-owned Iranian telecommunications firm,” reported the Post.
White House officials responded to the Post’s inquiries Sunday by insisting that no group had ever critically flagged MTN for its business relationship with Iran, making Plouffe’s visit harmless:
“He gave two speeches on mobile technology and digital communications and had no separate meetings with the company’s leadership,” Schultz said in a statement to The Washington Post. “At the time, not even the most zealous watchdog group on this issue had targeted the Iranian business interests of the host’s holding company. Criticism of Mr. Plouffe now for issues and controversies that developed only years later is simply misplaced.”
White House officials said in an e-mail that Plouffe referred the proposed speech to his lawyer for review before accepting the invitation. The e-mail said Plouffe’s lawyer advised that MTN’s business dealings did not raise any issues “that would weigh against acceptance of the proposed speaking engagement.”
As early as 2006, the Bush administration identified MTN’s Iranian venture, Irancell, as being “fully owned” by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. MTN asserts that it owns a “non-controlling 49% stake” in the company.
“Since Plouffe’s speeches, the U.S. government has become increasingly concerned that the Iranian government has used MTN operations or technology to help monitor dissidents,” the Post also reported.
And questions about Irancell’s activities were raised well ahead of Plouffe’s speech as well.
In 2009, after post-election protesters began to demonstrate against the disputed re-election of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Irancell announced some suspiciously-timed “technical problems” that debilitated the country’s cell phone service during the anticipated time of the protests, the Los Angeles Times reported in August 2009.
MTN has previously dismissed concerns about its involvement in Iranian human rights violations as “false and offensive.”