Scott Bergeron, LISCR’s chief executive, said the donation was a personal gesture by its chairman, Yoram Cohen, a friend of McAuliffe’s.
McAuliffe spokesman Josh Schwerin said the candidate and Cohen “met in the last two years and have never done business together.” He declined to say how they know each other.
Located in an unassuming brick office park off Leesburg Pike, LISCR operates the second-largest shipping registry in the world, certifying and inspecting nearly 4,000 vessels that fly the Liberian flag.
The company is a frequent target of organized labor, making it an odd ally for McAuliffe, who enjoys robust union support. As an open registry — known as a “flag of convenience” — it does not require a ship’s owner or crew to be Liberian, attracting vessels seeking lower taxes and wage requirements than in their home countries. Seafarers’ unions view the system as a means for ships to skirt labor regulations and mask their true ownership.
Flags of convenience “are generally unaccountable, nontransparent, secretive, and almost never there when real action needs to be taken to protect those working on their vessels,” David Heindel, secretary-treasurer of the Seafarers International Union, the largest North American union representing merchant mariners, said in an e-mail.
LISCR also played a controversial role during the bloody regime of former Liberian president Charles Taylor, whose war crimes conviction by the U.N. Special Court for Sierra Leone was upheld last month. As a major source of revenue for Liberia when Taylor was in power, the company came under close scrutiny by both the United Nations and U.S. officials, who were concerned about how the revenue it turned over to the government was being used, according to interviews and public documents.
“We were worried about them contributing to a regime doing bad things,” said John W. Blaney, who served as U.S. ambassador to Liberia from 2002 to 2005.
Bergeron defended the company’s safety and labor standards, noting that the Liberia is on a U.S. Coast Guard list of top-quality shipping registries.
“We’re a very proactive organization looking at the best interests of the public when it comes to global shipping,” he said.
Bergeron said LISCR worked closely with international and American officials when Taylor was in power and assisted with the investigation of the warlord.
“We opened all the books, shared all the financial information, to ensure that we as an organization were doing all the right things,” he said.