A modern-day treasure hunter searching for cash and other assets hidden by ex-Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi has been removed from an official list of lobbyists who are allowed to work for foreign governments inside the United States. The move follows a report last month from The Daily Beast that questioned whether Erik Goaied, a former arms dealer of Tunisian and Swedish descent, was truly working for the Libyan government or had concocted an elaborate scheme, part of which may have relied on deceiving U.S. officials.
Last November, Goaied filed papers with the Justice Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, a 1938 law meant to weed out corrupt foreign influence. The filing allowed Goaied to lobby U.S. officials and it helped to legitimize his claims that he was working on behalf of a “National Board,” which he said was set up by the Libyan government to recover hundreds of billions of dollars in assets that Gaddafi had hidden around the world. Goaied also presented the Justice Department with a contract that he said entitled him to 10 percent of whatever he found, a commission that could make him a billionaire.
It appears that the Justice Department never attempted to verify Goaied’s claims when he filed his paperwork. When The Daily Beast investigated, the Libyan embassy in Washington said the National Board doesn’t exist, and that Goaied had used his filing with the Justice Department to legitimize his scam.
A spokesman for the embassy said the Libyans had informed the Justice Department back in April that Goaied was a fraud. That was five months after he had filed his paperwork. But as of last month, his filing was still on record in a publicly accessible database. The Justice Department removed that filing after The Daily Beast published its story.
Joseph Sandler, a lawyer and expert on the Foreign Agents Registration Act, said that he’d never heard of the Justice Department pulling someone’s files because he might not actually be working for a foreign government.
“It’s extraordinary,” Sandler said. Usually, the Justice Department investigates people who are lobbying on behalf of foreign countries but who have failed to register, not the other way around, he said.
“When it comes to the department’s attention in a press story or a complaint, then they’ll look into it,” Sandler added. “They don’t have the resources on their own initiative to monitor compliance with the act.”
Justice Department spokesman Marc Raimondi wouldn’t comment on whether the government had investigated Goaied and his credentials. Misrepresenting oneself to the U.S. government as a foreign agent could trigger prosecution for false claims, punishable by as much as five years in prison.
Asked what had prompted the government’s decision to remove Goaied’s filing, Raimondi cited a law that allows the attorney general to remove records when “activities have ceased to be of a character which requires registration” under the act.
Sandler noted that even when an individual or a company stops lobbying for a foreign government, their filings are usually still publicly available. In Goaied’s case, however, the records were pulled from the Justice Department’s website entirely, leaving no public record that he ever claimed to have worked for Libya or that he successfully passed himself off to U.S. officials as a representative of that country’s government.
Goaied had also hired a prominent Washington lobbyist and political fundraiser, Ben Barnes, to help him make contacts in the U.S. government. Barnes was to be paid $50,000 a month for his services. After The Daily Beast’s initial report, Barnes said he is no longer representing Goaied’s company, the Washington African Consulting Group.
Goaied didn’t respond to a request for comment.