Whatever happened to PAFI?

Back in January 2016 LSM reported on Riga-based Peace Ambassadors for Iraq (PAFI), an organization that describes itself as "an internationally-oriented, non-governmental organization that is dedicated to achieving peace in Iraq and the Middle East."

We interviewed the leader of PAFI, one Sheikh Jamal Al-Dhari, about who was behind the organization, noting along the way its links with several prominent figures in Latvia and questioning why exactly it had chosen the unlikely location of Latvia for the base of its activities.

You can read our original story HERE.

For a few months afterwards, PAFI was quite busy. By March it was concentrating its attention on the Mosul Dam, saying that a two-billion-dollar project to rebuild the dam was urgently required, at the risk of literally millions of lives.

PAFI also touted a "Latvian conference" that was to take place on June 14, 2016, as this news release and video shows -- but it never happened.

The most recent news item on PAFI's official website is a recapitulation of the Mosul Dam project in June 2016.

The organization last tweeted in Arabic on April 1, 2016.

Its list of "future events" contains only past events.

PAFI last tweeted in English on 26 May 2016, when it hosted a 'peace conference' in Paris at the luxury George V Hotel just off the Champs-Elysées, where delegates were warned Iraq was on the brink of "total collapse".

The program of the conference listed Latvian Defense Minister Raimonds Bergmanis (a party colleague of the Agriculture Minister Janis Duklavs, whom LSM saw at the PAFI office in Riga. As we noted in our original feature, PAFI's ties to the ZZS party appear substantial) as an "invited participant". However, despite being listed, Bergmanis did not attend the Paris conference, the Defense Ministry confirmed to LSM.

Paris peace conference itinerary extract

PAFI was also involved in another 'Iraq crisis conference' a month earlier, in Rome on April 19-20 that saw al-Dhari perform the feat of making a 'keynote speech' on both days.

"The country is practically bankrupt, thanks to the collapse of oil prices and rampant corruption that is said to have drained billions of dollars from the state," says the introduction to the Rome conference.

The coup on that occasion was persuading former Italian Foreign Minister (under Silvio Berlusconi) and European Commissioner Franco Frattini to take part.

One blip of activity did occur on January 25 this year when PAFI hosted "a Gala Dinner dedicated to PAFI two year anniversary celebration," in the Daugava hall of the Radisson Blu Daugava hotel in Riga: despite the fact it had been to all intents inactive for eight months.

LSM understands the guest list included several Saeima deputies.

"You will enjoy a gourmet dinner and outstanding artists," the invitation promised.

Since then PAFI has been all but silent. But that's not to say it is defunct. Official records show that PAFI has diligently filed its accounts. These reveal some interesting figures, first, that the two-day Paris conference cost PAFI 87,000 euros to stage (the Rome conference gets no such itemised listing).

To put that in context, the annual Riga Conference is allocated funds of around 70,000 euros for an event involving 500 delegates in the Latvian National Library rather than a couple of dozen in a boutique hotel in Paris.

Luckily, some generous donors were on hand to help foot the bill, according to PAFI's accounts: three to be precise. Donating 1,000 euros was Jonny Thome, a Lebanese businessman and long-time Latvian resident who sits on PAFI's board. Also chipping in with 1,000 euros was Latvian Arturs Pavars, a security consultant and bodyguard who used to be part of the Latvian presidential bodyguard.

But the bulk of the donations - 50,000 euros - came from Iraqi citizen Khames Jamal Abdulwahhab Kham (We assume this to be the full name of Sheikh al-Dhari, but PAFI did not reply to a request to clarify this).

Even with such generosity, the bill for the Paris conference would be short, so it is a good job PAFI already had some money in the bank, thanks to donations of 95,500 euros during 2015.

The same figure, 95,500 euros, is given as PAFI's balance at the start of the year 2016. By the end of the year that had dropped slightly to 60,500 euros, but those figures are minor compared to far more substantial figures elsewhere in PAFI's accounts.

In 2016 PAFI had expenses of 179,535 euros (the figure for 2015 was 212,881). It paid just 10,449 euros in wages (it is listed as having one employee) and made social insurance contributions of 2,465 euros. The catch-all category "other expenses" accounts for a whopping 163,749 euros. It paid no tax at all.

But the biggest figures in PAFI's accounts are recorded in its passive balance sheet - the amounts it owes to third parties as a result of loans and other liabilities and the amounts it is itself owed. PAFI ended the year with passive liabilities of -251,280 euros. The good news is creditors owed it 267,286 euros, leaving it with a passive balance just over 16,000 euros.

It all adds up to a puzzling picture of an organization that appeared from nowhere, made a lot of noise for a short while and then went mysteriously silent.

According to the description given by PAFI in its entry in the official Latvian business register, it focuses on:

"charity - providing humanitarian assistance that attaches particular attention and support to women, children, elderly people, patients and people with special needs; the protection of human rights and individual rights - support for the continued advancement of human rights and humanitarian unity in Iraq; the development of civil society."

How all-expenses-paid trips to five star hotels in Paris and Rome or a gala dinner in Riga contribute to providing humanitarian assistance is not immediately evident.

In its busy period, PAFI hired Washington-based Logan International Relations to raise its profile. A prestigious firm, Logan certainly would not have come cheap, and a speaker from Logan was on the bill at the Rome conference alongside al-Dhari. LSM understands Logan is no longer working with PAFI. The last time Logan tweeted about its former client was April 2016 - around the time everything went a bit quiet.

LSM asked Logan when and why the relationship had come to an end but has not as yet received a response.

As previously stated, LSM contacted PAFI with a list of questions (on July 27) concerning its future plans, priorities and where the money on its balance sheet comes from. We also asked why it has changed its registered address three times in two years (After registering at an address in Jelgava, it changed to an address in Babite from November 2016 until March this year, then switched again to its current address in Marupe, not far from Riga Airport).

We received no reply despite several subsequent attempts to get a response. When we hear something concrete, we'll let you know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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