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Maldives denies hiring US lobbyist Podesta Group

The Attorney General’s Office has denied reports that the government of Madives has hired Washington’s most prominent lobbyist firm, Podesta Group, to advocate on its behalf amidst calls for sanctions for human rights violations.



The Attorney General’s Office has denied reports that the government of Maldives has hired the Podesta Group, Washington’s most prominent lobbyist firm, to advocate on its behalf amidst calls for sanctions for human rights violations.

Ismail Wisham, the assistant attorney general, said: “I can assure you that such reports are completely false. We have not hired a new firm.”

The claim was made on Friday by Jared Genser, jailed former President Mohamed Nasheed’s lawyer.

Nasheed’s heavyweight lawyers have threatened to lobby for targeted sanctions on government officials if the opposition leader is not released when a UN opinion on his imprisonment is made public in early October.

The government hired London-based Omnia Strategy to respond to Nasheed’s petition at the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention for an undisclosed fee.

Cherie Blair, who chairs Omnia and is the wife of former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, has called the call for sanctions inappropriate.

Omnia’s contract will end once a decision on the UN opinion is issued, Wisham said.

The government is under fire in the wake of a slide to authoritarianism. Several opposition leaders have been jailed or are in exile. Several journalists and human rights defenders have been attacked, and say they live in a climate of fear.

World leaders including UK Prime Minister David Cameron, US Secretary of State John Kerry, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein and prominent US Senators John McCain and Jack Reed have called for Nasheed’s release.

The Podesta Group has represented BP Oil, Walmart, Bank of America and the governments of Myanmar, Egypt and Azerbaijan. It is said to have close ties to the US Democratic Party and President Barack Obama’s administration.

John Podesta, who runs Podesta Group with his brother Tony Podesta, also chairs the Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The New York Times has called Tony Podesta one of DC’s most powerful “superlobbyists.”

The government of Myanmar signed a US$840,000 with Podesta Group in April, according to The Hill.

According to Foreign Policy, Azerbaijan, a central Asian country criticised for human rights violations, employs Podesta Group for a monthly fee of US$75,000.

Podesta Group has recently been involved in deflecting criticism of Gulf States for failing to take in Syrian refugees.

A New York Times article in 2011 said Podesta had helped stall a Senate bill that called on Egypt to curtail human rights abuses.

According to the Washington Post, Podesta earned US$1.15 million lobbying for Puerto Rico to advocate on various issues including statehood, transportation and infrastructure.