Connecticut GOP candidate acknowledges work in Saudi Arabia

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — For months, Bob Stefanowski, the Republican candidate for governor in Connecticut, declined to reveal the clients of his lucrative business consulting firm, saying he had a duty to customers to keep certain things confidential.

Democrats wielded the lack of transparency like a cudgel, saying Stefanowski must be hiding something.

Now, at least one aspect of his work has been revealed. Stefanowski, who has a background in mergers and acquisitions, has acknowledged for the first time that he has done consulting work related to a proposed futuristic, green-energy city in Saudi Arabia, proposed by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Stefanowski told reporters during a Zoom call on Wednesday that he has been and remains a consultant to NEOM, the company that is behind the massive NEOM project. He said he’s involved with a three-way venture to build a hydrogen plant. Stefanowski initially confirmed his involvement to Hearst Connecticut Media, in a story published Wednesday, saying he has been involved with the NEOM project since 2019.

Stefanowski’s acknowledgement came after being presented with documents showing he met with top executives of the planned city, including an email sent in 2018 that referred to a meeting he had in London with someone involved with the Saudi state-run investment fund. Stefanowski confirmed Wednesday that he started his consulting work with NEOM about six months later.

“Part of being a consultant is you fly all over the world and try to get business. So I meet with a lot of people all over the world. I don’t anymore,” said Stefanowski, who said he has scaled back his work with NEOM to a couple of phone calls a week while he runs for governor. He said he found the Saudi project particularly interesting, calling it a “noble project that’s going to help global warming.” The proposed city, to be run entirely on alternative sources of energy, “redefines the concept of urban development and what cities of the future should look like,” according to a company statement.

Stefanowski told Hearst he did not work directly with the Saudi government or the investment fund. During the Zoom news conference, Stefanowski said he could not say whether he has met the crown prince, listed as chairman of NEOM’s board of directors, due to a non-disclosure agreement. However, the candidate said he was given permission by NEOM to discuss limited things related to his consulting work.

Despite human rights issues in Saudi Arabia, Stefanowski said he’s “comfortable with the project” and feels he is helping to control global warming.

“Just because you meet with a country doesn’t mean you agree with all their policies and procedures,” he told Hearst. “This is a green energy project that could help the world. That’s what it was limited to.”

Saudi Arabia has a complicated relationship with the U.S.

Human rights advocates have condemned the Persian Gulf nation for oppressing dissent and the 2018 killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

President Joe Biden said on Tuesday there would be “consequences” for Saudi Arabia for backing recent oil production moves that were seen as likely to help Russia in its war with Ukraine.

Yet the kingdom has also been a military and diplomatic partner and is seen as a counterbalance to Iran’s influence in the region.

Connecticut Democrats, including Gov. Ned Lamont’s campaign, have criticized Stefanowski for not revealing his consulting clients. “There’s no telling whose interests he truly represents,” Lamont’s campaign said in one written statement. Lamont told reporters Wednesday that he would comment Thursday on the news of Stefanowski’s Saudi client, saying he had only read headlines about the revelation.

“It poses an awful lot of questions, but I don’t want to jump to any conclusions,” Lamont said.

Stefanowski, 60, is an accountant and financial analyst who has written two books on mergers and acquisitions. He once worked as the CEO of a payday loan company and has also worked for General Electric and investment bank UBS, among other entities.

Stefanowski previously said he would release what he could “ethically and legally” provide to the public about his consulting clients.

“In a consulting firm, there’s always confidential information,” he told reporters earlier this year.

Three years of tax documents released in September show Stefanowski and his wife Amy earned a total of $36.8 million and have three limited liability companies, including one called Lolo Consulting.

His campaign said in a statement that Lolo Consulting provides services including “merger & acquisition and due diligence support, corporate strategy and other general consulting services.” Also, Lolo has advised on “acquisitions and joint ventures in the financial services, health care and energy sectors,” according to the statement.

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This story was corrected to show the company behind the project is spelled NEOM, not NOEM.

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