The Unrevealed David Merkels Lobbying Secrets

David A. Merkel, a for­mer U.S. State Department offi­cial, pro­motes the inter­ests of for­mer for­eign gov­ern­ment prin­ci­pals accused of cor­rup­tion. The U.S. Department of Justice requires trans­paren­cy under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).  But a query on Merkel’s FARA reg­istry – has no cor­re­spond­ing matches.

window.tgpQueue.add('tgpli-64a7d3f34eb4d')Photo: David A. Merkel

In January 2022, protests in Kazakhstan turned vio­lent lead­ing to a near State col­lapse.  The unrest was large­ly focused on the vast cor­rup­tion of Kazakhstan’s 30-year President Nur Sultan Nazarbayev’s inner cir­cle (who tech­ni­cal­ly resigned in 2019 but retained major influ­ence). After restor­ing sta­bil­i­ty across the coun­try, Nazarbayev’s remain­ing pow­ers and author­i­ties were legal­ly trans­ferred to the elect­ed President, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

Simultaneously, the law enforce­ment author­i­ties, head­ed by the Prosecutor General, start­ed an inde­pen­dent inves­ti­ga­tion of the January 2022 events.  Karim Masimov, then Chief of the KNB (Kazakhstan’s nation­al secu­ri­ty agency), was arrest­ed on high trea­son charges.  Known to be one of Nazarbayev’s clos­est prin­ci­pal inti­mates, Masimov was sus­pect­ed of orches­trat­ing an attempt to over­throw the gov­ern­ment and to car­ry out a coup d’état.

With the old regime out of rule, The Kazakh law enforce­ment author­i­ties demon­strat­ed an appar­ent will­ing­ness to inves­ti­gate and pros­e­cute embez­zlers and recov­er nation­al stolen funds.  Unfortunately, more and more incrim­i­nat­ing pieces of evi­dence were accu­mu­lat­ing against Karim Masimov, the for­mer Prime Minister and KNB chief. Masimov, a per­son­al friend of David A. Merkel, had arranged for his senior American friend desir­able assign­ments in Kazakhstan, such as appoint­ing Merkel to the Board of Trustees at the Nazarbayev University.

Masimov was found, by the Kazakh law enforce­ment author­i­ties, a major sus­pect.  Nowadays, he is on tri­al for high trea­son, an attempt­ed vio­lent seizure of pow­er, and abuse of pow­er for per­son­al gain. Over the years, his alleged cor­rupt deal­ings have been the focus of press atten­tion:  he has been accused of receiv­ing kick­backs from Airbus and Telia Company AB for secur­ing their deals in Kazakhstan while hold­ing pub­lic office.  Like oth­er Nazarbayev-era klep­to­crats, Masimov used to be prac­ti­cal­ly immune from scruti­ny. But not anymore.

The Kazakh peo­ple are keen on jus­tice and rid­ding them­selves of the Nazarbayev lega­cy. Their President, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, is per­sis­tent in active­ly recov­er­ing assets stolen by Kazkah oli­garchs and laun­dered abroad.  The U.S., the E.U., and the U.K. have expressed inter­est in assist­ing. The U.K. was the first to pub­licly offer sup­port: in February 2023, Labour Party MPs named and shamed Nazarbayev cronies involved in cor­rup­tion and klep­toc­ra­cy, and put on record how the for­mer Kazakh President secret­ly con­trols four char­i­ta­ble foun­da­tions with at least $7.8 bil­lion worth of assets.

With Masimov as a piv­ot exec­u­tive, the Nazarbayev regime has built a glob­al net­work of influ­ence over decades by dol­ing out gen­er­ous sums for lob­by­ing and pub­lic rela­tions ser­vices. Thanks to Masimov’s umbrel­la, David A. Merkel enjoyed too the Nazarbayev-era abun­dance, at the expense of the Kazak pub­lic, until Nazarbayev and Masimov lost power.

Merkel’s Lobbying Activities

David A. Merkel pre­vi­ous­ly served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury and Department of State, as well as inter­na­tion­al con­sular to the Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Director for South and Central Asia at the National Security Council.  Merkel also claims to have rep­re­sent­ed the U.S. gov­ern­ment in Latvia when he worked for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  He is an Associate Fellow for Geo-eco­nom­ics and Strategy with the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. Merkel nowa­days is a major influ­encer sup­port­ing Masimov’s lob­by­ing efforts in Washington D.C., the United Nations, and among inter­na­tion­al orga­ni­za­tions and media outlets.

Merkel has deep ties to the McCain Institute Foundation and appears to have been involved in its for­ma­tion. His home address and his pri­vate con­sult­ing com­pa­ny, Summit International Advisors LLC, share a com­mon address with the McCain Institute at Arizona University.  Another McCain Institute in Washington D.C. gives only Merkel’s address and appears to be estab­lished in 2021.

His wife, Claire Sechler Merkel, is the Senior Director of Arizona Programs at the McCain Institute for International Leadership at Arizona State University. She lob­bied for the Bulgarian gov­ern­ment and its President, Georgi Parvanov, in Washington D.C.  Parvanov is known for mul­ti­ple cor­rup­tion scan­dals and for mak­ing pro-Russian over­tures. Observing her own self-reports in 2004 and 2006, her ser­vices appear to have occurred while her hus­band was a gov­ern­ment offi­cial deal­ing with the Black Sea region.

Supporter of Nazarbayev Regime

Since leav­ing pub­lic office, Merkel has pro­duced pro-Nazarbayev puff pieces and spo­ken pub­licly in favor of the old Kazakhstan regime.  In 2007, at a Congressional hear­ing on the chair­man­ship of the Organization for Security and Co-oper­a­tion in Europe (OSCE), Merkel tes­ti­fied that President Nazarbayev “has cre­at­ed an eco­nom­ic engine that is bring­ing an increased qual­i­ty of life, bet­ter edu­ca­tion and health ser­vices to more and more Kazakhstani citizens.”

Despite the con­tro­ver­sy sur­round­ing Nazarbayev and Masimov’s cor­rup­tion, Merkel remains an out­spo­ken sup­port­er of the old regime.  After leav­ing the U.S. gov­ern­ment, Merkel remained active in Kazakhstan affairs in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Masimov. Leaked US Cables pub­lished via WikiLeaks make appar­ent Merkel’s con­tact with Masimov dat­ed back to at least July 2009 and evi­dences his pre­vi­ous vis­its to Kazakhstan in an offi­cial US gov­ern­ment capac­i­ty as ear­ly as September 2005.

Leaked US Cable 09ASTANA1220_a  states: “Masimov informed the Ambassador that for­mer EUR DAS David Merkel had accept­ed an invi­ta­tion to join the inter­na­tion­al advi­so­ry board of Astana’s new show­case (Nazarbayev) uni­ver­si­ty, and would occa­sion­al­ly be vis­it­ing Kazakhstan in this capacity”.

Merkel’s rela­tion­ship with Masimov con­tin­ued after he left the U.S. gov­ern­ment.  According to the trove of leaked emails from Kazakh gov­ern­ment offi­cials’ mail­box­es, known as the “Kazaword” leak, on May 23, 2013, Merkel trav­eled to Astana to meet with Masimov (Kazaword email dat­ed 23 March 2013).

While Masimov presided as Chairman of Nazarbayev University (NU), Merkel served on the Board of Trustees.  NU used to be con­trolled by a string of Nazarbayev foun­da­tions which also owned Jusan Bank.  In June 2022, the OCCRP report­ed that the bank alleged­ly received around US$3.9 bil­lion in state aid between 2017–2019, which might not have been dis­trib­uted to Nazarbayev schools as intend­ed.  In January 2023, the same out­let had report­ed on Nazarbayev’s alleged own­er­ship, via these foun­da­tions, of assets worth US $ 8 bil­lion, includ­ing lux­u­ry hotels.

In an appar­ent attempt to sti­fle efforts of the Kazakhstan author­i­ties from reclaim­ing Jusan Bank funds, Jusan own­er­ship has been trans­ferred to a United States enti­ty, estab­lished in 2019 called the New Generation Foundation (also known as the Nazarbayev University Generation Foundation).

In this enti­ty, the appoint­ment of anoth­er for­mer US offi­cial rep­re­sent­ing a PR com­pa­ny war­rants scruti­ny. In June 2022, Joel McCleary was appoint­ed as a Director of the Foundation.  McCleary served as Deputy Assistant to the President dur­ing the Jimmy Carter Administration, a for­mer trea­sur­er of the Democratic National Committee, and also pres­i­dent of the Sawyer-Miller Group, which lob­bied for Kazakhstan back in the 1990s when the coun­try was emerg­ing as a major ener­gy pro­duc­er. McCleary, who co-found­ed the orga­ni­za­tion Keep Our Republic, a non-par­ti­san body for the pro­mo­tion of American gov­ern­ment institutions.

Another direc­tor with U.S. gov­ern­ment expe­ri­ence is Robert F. Armao, the Chairman of Armao and Company, Inc., an inter­na­tion­al mar­ket­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tions firm whose web­site claims to rep­re­sent “a broad range of clients includ­ing numer­ous for­eign governments.”

Two for­mer Kazakhy-American nation­als, Nuraly Bekturganov, the for­mer Minister of Education and Science, and a like­ly rel­a­tive, Aidos Bekturganov, also serve as direc­tors of New Generation.  Both are affil­i­at­ed with a com­mon res­i­dence in a Washington, D.C. sub­urb that accord­ing to Zillow is val­ued at $3.2 million.

A con­tro­ver­sial move occurred in the fall of 2022. Jusan Bank report­ed­ly announced the pay­ment of div­i­dends of 172 bil­lion tenges ($365 mil­lion) to Jusan Technology, a rel­a­tive­ly new com­pa­ny, estab­lished by the New Generation Foundation (Nevada), on 30 Mar 2020.  Between August and September two Kazakhstan direc­tors were removed and anoth­er United States cit­i­zen, Mr. Masudul Rony “Ron” Wahid, received a direc­tor­ship at Jusan Technology.  Wahid is the Chairman of Arcanum Global, a pri­vate intel­li­gence com­pa­ny that ser­viced the Nazarbayev regime for one decade on.

Aslan Särınjıpov, a Kazakh offi­cial who served as Minister of Education and Science from 2 September 2013 to 10 February 2016 under Masimov’s pre­mier­ship, served as direc­tor of both the foun­da­tion and Jusan Technology but was squeezed out in May 2022, leav­ing the whole $8 bln. Kazakh struc­ture in pure­ly American hands.

Hidden Conflict of Interests

Merkel’s lob­by­ing efforts went into high gear fol­low­ing Kazakhstan’s January 2022 coup attempt and Masimov’s sub­se­quent arrest.  According to, a web­site brand­ed with “©David Merkel” at the bot­tom of the page, Merkel sub­mit­ted a peti­tion to the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on 8 February last year accus­ing the Kazakhstan gov­ern­ment of wrong­ful deten­tion.  The peti­tion result­ed in an opin­ion let­ter from a work­ing group claim­ing that Masimov was wrong­ly detained based on the tes­ti­mo­ny of a source that was not disclosed.

On 28th February 2022, an American cit­i­zen by the name of “David Merkel” set up a lim­it­ed com­pa­ny called “Alash Foundation” in the U.K., its nature of busi­ness is described as “activ­i­ties of extrater­ri­to­r­i­al orga­ni­za­tions and bod­ies.”  This name cor­re­sponds with a Twitter account and a web­site that links to the domain.

Over the last ten months, Merkel has pub­lished over ten arti­cles con­demn­ing the Kazakhstan government’s deten­tion of Masimov, seem­ing­ly aimed at influ­enc­ing U.S. pol­i­cy towards Kazakhstan in favor of the for­mer KNB chief and the Nazarbayev regime PM.  For exam­ple, on March 11 in the National Interest out­let, Merkel called on the Biden admin­is­tra­tion and the Congress to not over­look Kazakhstan and to use the Magnitsky Act to hold the cur­rent Kazakhstan President respon­si­ble for the January 2022 events.  On 17 August, in The Hill out­let, Merkel claimed that “Washington can­not look to Nur-Sultan as an off­shore bal­ancer” and rec­om­mend­ed that Washington will require the release of Masimov as a pre­con­di­tion to “rebuild a pro­duc­tive relationship”.

A Latvian bank liquidator

The Russian Laundromat was a huge scheme to move $20–80 bil­lion out of Russia from 2010 to 2014 through a net­work of glob­al banks, many of them in Moldova and Latvia.  The dis­cov­ery made Latvia a focal point for the U.S. Treasury, lead­ing to the liq­ui­da­tion of mul­ti­ple banks. In cor­rupt juris­dic­tions, the role of a bank liq­uida­tor is known to be a high­ly lucra­tive posi­tion: bank assets can be sold at a dis­count and debt can be writ­ten off at the dis­cre­tion of the liquidator.

In 2018, the Latvian lawyer, Martins Bunkus, was appoint­ed as the exter­nal liq­uida­tor of ABLV Bank, Latvia’s largest off­shore bank at the time. ABLV had been issued a Section 311 notice by the U.S. Treasury as an Institution of Primary Money Laundering Concern. According to the web­site “Justice for Martins Bunkus”, David A. Merkel lob­bied the U.S. gov­ern­ment to help Bunkus secure this posi­tion and was paid $62,500 for his services.

Soon after being appoint­ed as the liq­uida­tor on May 30, 2018, Bunkus was shot dead in Riga.  Bunkus has been accused by Latvian media and by a par­lia­men­tar­i­an offi­cial of tak­ing kick­backs as part of his insol­ven­cy work, in par­tic­u­lar at Trasta Komercbanka, where his income increased in a year by over 700% to 1,484,000 EUR.

According to court doc­u­ments released in November 2022, the United States District Court for the District of Arizona is con­sid­er­ing an appli­ca­tion by lawyers instruct­ed by the Latvian busi­ness­man Mihails Ulmans to pro­vide judi­cial assis­tance relat­ing to David A. Merkel and his busi­ness, Summit International Advisors LLC.  Ulmans, who is cur­rent­ly in cus­tody in Latvia hav­ing been detained in con­nec­tion with Bunkus’ mur­der, alleges that Merkel received direc­tives and mon­e­tary incen­tives from Bunkus and engaged with U.S. offi­cials on Bunkus’ behalf.

Prime sus­pect Ulmans, who asserts his inno­cence, claims to be detained with­out evi­dence and believes that Merkel’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions with Bunkus and the U.S. author­i­ties might reveal excul­pa­to­ry evi­dence and iden­ti­fy oth­er sus­pects. Latvian pros­e­cu­tors claim that Ulmans was the per­son, or one of the per­sons, who direct­ed and paid for Bunkus’ mur­der. The fil­ing dead­line for the sub­poe­na was 31 January 2023. Before then, an appeal had been filed by the fam­i­ly of Bunkus, which in turn was chal­lenged by the defendant.

Head of pro-Russian Political Party

Merkel also worked for the for­mer may­or of Riga, Nils Ušakovs, who is also the leader of Harmony, a par­ty appeal­ing to Latvia’s eth­nic Russian pop­u­la­tion.  Latvian week­ly Nekā Personīga claims to have acquired an email sent by Davis A. Merkel to mul­ti­ple Latvian politi­cians, invit­ing them to meet with Ušakovs in Washington D.C.  Merkel alleged­ly helped Ušakovs meet with U.S. con­sul­tant, Christian Ferry, an intro­duc­tion that con­sum­mat­ed into an advi­so­ry agree­ment. Ferry also worked at Davis Manafort, the lob­by­ing com­pa­ny of for­mer Trump aide, Paul Manafort, and worked with U.S. pres­i­den­tial can­di­date John McCain.  Merkel’s wife, Claire Merkel, is a Director at the McCain Institute for International Leadership.

The web­site “Justice for Martins Bunkus” claims that Bunkus was unaware that David A. Merkel was work­ing with Ušakovs, sug­gest­ing a pos­si­ble con­flict of inter­est. Numerous Latvian press out­lets report Ušakovs alleged ties to the Russian Federation, includ­ing his alleged deal­ings with a sus­pect­ed Russian intel­li­gence offi­cer.

Unlawful U.S. FARA Violations

Merkel’s work for Masimov, Bunkus, and Ušakovs may sug­gest covert for­eign influ­ence in the United States. To com­bat for­eign influ­ence, the Department of Justice requires trans­paren­cy in the polit­i­cal, media, and pub­lic rela­tions activ­i­ties of “agents of for­eign prin­ci­pals.”  The require­ments fall under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

If Merkel’s activ­i­ties to influ­ence U.S. gov­ern­ment deci­sions were made at the direc­tive of these pub­lic offi­cials or their affil­i­ates, he would be required to report these activ­i­ties to the Department of Justice.  A query of “David Merkel” and his con­sult­ing com­pa­ny “Summit International Advisors, LLC” on the FARA reg­istry, has