Palm Beach County was built on tourism and agriculture. But once established as a haven for money and power, and as the world grew smaller through the advance of technology, it also became a flashpoint for global intrigue.
Not all our connections to the mechanisms of global power are so gaudy or well-known, however. The work of Palm Beach-based FTI Consulting is, typically, and by design, discreet to the point of invisibility. So it was something of a jolt, followed by an "of course!" to see the firm's name in a recent New Yorker article, about transnational corporate scheming over control of "one of the world's largest known deposits of untapped iron ore."
As described by New Yorker staff writer Patrick Radden Keefe, FTI played a complicated role in the affair, dealing with the devil (Israeli diamond mogul Beny Steinmetz's international mining firm BSGR) against an African president (Alpha Condé, of Guinea, himself no angel) then thinking better of it (at the prompting, according to Keefe, of no less than George Soros):
B.S.G.R. expanded its campaign against Condé, and turned to a company called F.T.I., which is based in Palm Beach but has operations throughout the world. F.T.I. practices an aggressive form of public relations, seeking not only to suppress negative media coverage about a client but also to plant unfavorable stories about the client's adversaries. An F.T.I. spokesman blasted the Guinean government's review process, calling it a "crude smear campaign." The firm encouraged journalists to run negative stories about Condé; the President soon began to receive bad press about the delay in setting parliamentary elections and about several ostensibly dubious transactions made by people close to him, including his son, Alpha Mohamed Condé. It is not hard to imagine that at least some of Condé's associates have made side deals. "I practice the watch theory of politics," a Western diplomat in Conakry told me. "When a minister is wearing a watch that costs more than my car, I start to worry." During my interviews with officials in Conakry, I spotted more than one conspicuously expensive watch; in the Guinean fashion, the watches hung loose on the wrist, like bracelets.
Inside F.T.I., the decision to work on behalf of Steinmetz caused discord. In 2012, the company hired a new executive to oversee some of its accounts in Africa, and when he discovered that the firm represented Steinmetz and Dan Gertler--another Israeli diamond mogul, who has been involved in controversial deals in the Democratic Republic of Congo--the executive protested, then resigned. Mark Malloch-Brown, the former Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, is now F.T.I.'s chairman for the Middle East and Europe. He grew concerned that the company's reputation might be damaged by its association with Steinmetz, and earlier this year he terminated the relationship. The leadership at B.S.G.R. was incensed.
As the company's troubles accumulated, Steinmetz and his colleagues began to direct their feelings of grievance at George Soros, who had financed Condé's initial investigation and provided seed money to D.L.A. Piper. Soros also bankrolled Revenue Watch, the organization that had been assisting Nava Touré in revising Guinea's mining code, and supported Global Witness, an anti-corruption watchdog group that had been looking into Steinmetz's activities in Guinea. B.S.G.R. executives became convinced that Malloch-Brown had terminated the F.T.I. contract at the behest of an old friend of his: Soros. Cramer showed me an internal document, titled "The Spider," which depicted Soros and Condé at the center of a web of influence, and which identified Soros as "a hater of Israel." The firm sent Soros an angry letter, saying, "We can no longer remain silent letting you ceaselessly maul our company and maliciously attempt wrecking the investment."
Earlier this year, lawyers for Steinmetz sent a letter to Malloch-Brown, demanding that he acknowledge his "personal vendetta" against Steinmetz, sign a formal apology that they had scripted, and "clear" B.S.G.R. of any wrongdoing in Africa. When Malloch-Brown refused, B.S.G.R. sued him, along with F.T.I. The lawsuit claimed that Soros nurtured a "personal obsession" with Steinmetz; it also alleged that Soros had perpetuated a shocking rumor--that Steinmetz tried to have President Condé killed, by backing the mortar attack on his residence in 2011. (B.S.G.R. maintains that this rumor is entirely unfounded; the lawsuit was recently settled out of court, with no admission of wrongdoing by Malloch-Brown or F.T.I.)
How to evaluate FTI? Its history and range of services offer provocative and equivocal suggestions.
- FTI consulted with the government of Colombia, developing a public relations strategy for the reintegration of ex-militia members in the aftermath of that nation's long-running, bloody civil war. But that reintegration effort has come under heavy criticism.
- In 2007 the company worked on the investigation into the U.N.'s oil-for-food program bribery scandal tied to the Saddam Hussein regime. Mark Malloch Brown -- who as U.N. chief of staff handled the organization's public defense of the program -- now holds a senior post at FTI.
- Here's how the company describes the purpose of its Global Anti-Bribery and Corruption Statute Services:
to help our clients navigate anti-bribery and corruption risk proactively (assessing and mitigating risk); reactively (responding to allegations with multidisciplinary investigation, forensic accounting and information preservation experts); and in monitoring and remediation (designing and testing controls modifications, or pursuant to prosecutorial settlement agreements).
We may never know the truth of FTI, and the full range of its activities. Clearly, though, its influence reaches out from Palm Beach and circles the globe, with an impact on the fate of millions.
Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes-fatal sting -- covers Palm Beach County. Got feedback or a tip? Contact Fire.Ant@BrowardPalmBeach.com.