Watchdog Hits McAuliffe With Campaign Finance Complaint Over Foreign Money

McAuliffe took $350,000 donation from a foreign-owned company linked to an overseas money laundering probe

Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe (D.) / Getty Images
October 31, 2021

A government watchdog group hit Terry McAuliffe with a campaign finance complaint on Friday over a $350,000 donation he received from a foreign-owned company linked to an overseas money laundering probe, according to a copy of the filing obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

The National Legal and Policy Center is asking the FEC to "promptly investigate" whether the contribution to the Virginia gubernatorial candidate violated federal laws prohibiting campaigns from accepting political 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 Washington, D.C. attorney, Paul Kamenar, counsel to NLPC, who drafted and filed the complaint with the FEC.

LycaTel LLC, owned by Sri Lankan-British national Allirajah Subaskaran, gave McAuliffe $350,000 in July, the Free Beacon first reported in early October. The company is a New Jersey subsidiary of Subaskaran’s U.K.-based telecom conglomerate, which boasts a complicated web of offshore businesses and has been the subject of tax-fraud and money-laundering charges in France.

Federal law prohibits campaigns from accepting money from foreign nationals and entities, directly or indirectly, in local, state, and federal elections. While U.S.-based subsidiaries of foreign corporations can contribute, the donation can't be made under the direction of the company's foreign leadership—which legal experts said can be a murky legal distinction.

"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," Ben Freeman, director of the Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative at the Center for International Policy, told the Free Beacon earlier this month.

LycaTel does not appear to have contributed to previous Virginia campaigns or federal races. In July, the company retained D.C.-based lobbyist Robert Thompson to lobby on "Telecom" issues, according to disclosure records. Prior to that, Thompson had registered as a foreign agent representing Subaskaran as part of a "business expansion within the U.S.A.," according to records filed with the Department of Justice.

Thompson was a lobbyist for the Sri Lankan government from 2013 to 2014, according to disclosure records. Thompson did not respond to a request for comment about his lobbying work.

Subaskaran, 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. LycaMobile denied any wrongdoing related to the deposits and noted that it operates a cash-heavy business.

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.

LycaTel did not respond to emailed questions. When reached by phone earlier this month, LycaTel's general counsel said the company had no comment on the donation and was "waiting to hear back from management as to what they want to disclose and what they don't." McAuliffe's campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

McAuliffe and Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin will face off at the polls on Nov. 2.

Note: This piece was originally published on Oct. 30, 2021, at 8:30 a.m. 

Published under: Terry McAuliffe