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January 13, 2003

Such good freinds.The Saudis' Secret Ads

When radio ads critical of Israel ran in 15 U.S. cities last spring, they identified the Alliance for Peace and Justice as sponsor. The alliance was described by its Washington p.r. firm, Qorvis Communications, as a consortium of Middle East — policy groups based in the U.S. But when Qorvis reported its ad work to the Justice Department last month, it revealed that funding for the $679,000 media buy actually came from another source: the Saudi government.

As home to all but four of the Sept. 11 hijackers, Saudi Arabia had good reason to hide its p.r. offensive. A knowledgeable source tells TIME the alliance was created by the p.r. firm to disguise the role of the Saudis, who pay Qorvis more than $200,000 a month for its services. In a footnote to its Justice report, the firm said Riyadh helped fund the ads with a loan to the alliance, which was later repaid by a council representing Saudi business interests. But the source tells TIME most of the "repayments" came from businesses controlled by or close to the Saudi government and were solicited by Adel al-Jubeir, foreign-policy adviser to the Crown Prince and architect of the Saudi p.r. offensive. A Saudi embassy spokesman added that some of the funding came from three Arab-American interest groups. But officials of two of these groups said they had given nothing to the ad campaign, and the third group could not be reached.

Qorvis partner Michael Petruzzello denied anything was done covertly. But the Saudi role in the ads shocked Qorvis' law firm, Patton Boggs, which also represents the Saudi embassy. When the ads ran, some Patton Boggs partners who protested them — including one who quit over the flap — were led to believe the Saudi government was not involved.