The Maldivian government has enlisted a prestigious American international law firm for US$55,000 a month amid mounting international pressure over the death penalty and the jailing of opposition politicians.
Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP is reportedly the most profitable lobbying firm in the United States.
According to its disclosure under the US Foreign Agents Registration Act, the firm was employed for six months to represent the Maldives “before the US government on issues of importance such as trade and economic development, foreign investment, climate change and regional security.”
Akin Gump will provide “counsel on all public policy issues related to the United States Congress and the Administration.”
The firm will also assist with “outreach and communications with US government officials and media regarding ongoing priorities of the Republic of Maldives.”
Ahmed Sareer, the permanent representative of the Maldives to the UN, signed the contract on June 1.
The Maldives also agreed to reimburse the firm for expenses in excess of US$250, such as the cost of travel.
The hiring of Akin Gump comes after the US Senate in April unanimously adopted a bipartisan resolution calling on the Maldivian government to redress the “injustice” of former President Mohamed Nasheed’s imprisonment.
The resolution followed a campaign by Nasheed’s pro bono heavyweight lawyers, Jared Genser and Amal Clooney, to lobby top US lawmakers for targeted sanctions against Maldivian government officials.
Genser’s NGO Freedom Now, a renowned Washington-based campaign group for political prisoners, also submitted a report to White House officials urging President Barack Obama to issue an executive order imposing financial sanctions.
— John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) January 13, 2016
According to The Intercept, Akin Gump is “famous in Washington for its ability to sell access to those in power” with an employee roster filled with former members of Congress.
The firm’s client list includes the US Chamber of Commerce, Monsanto, Boeing, Chevron, Gilead Sciences, Pfizer and AT&T. It also represents the United Arab Emirates and Japan.
In September last year, the Maldivian government had also hired US lobbying firm Podesta Group to “provide strategic counseling” on improving ties with the US government.
But the US$300,000 PR deal was cancelled in late October following former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb’s arrest on suspicion of plotting to assassinate President Abdulla Yameen.
Documents filed by Podesta at the US Department of Justice showed the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation, a state-owned company at the center of the country’s biggest corruption scandal, paid the firm US$50,000 for September.
Emails sent to Adeeb, obtained by The Maldives Independent in March, showed that senior foreign ministry officials communicated directly with him over Podesta’s hire.
Adeeb is facing more than 50 counts of graft over the theft of nearly US$80 million from the MMPRC.
Omnia Strategy, a London-based legal and public relations firm chaired by Cherie Blair, meanwhile came under fire in February when the UK’s Daily Mail alleged that it was paid £210,000 from stolen funds.
Omnia said it terminated its six-month contract early “following the unpredictable domestic events that occurred in the Maldives in October and November 2015” and is “no longer instructed” by either the government or the MMPRC.
In November, the government also hired London-based PR firm BTP Advisers, whose clients have included the governments of Rwanda, Ivory Coast, Kenya, and Azerbaijan.
In March this year, US Assistant Secretary of State Nisha Biswal warned that the Maldives is on a “largely negative trajectory” following the widely condemned imprisonment of opposition leaders
The political crisis has led to “a steady weakening of its fragile democracy and an erosion of the rule of law,” she observed.
In a speech on US foreign policy objectives, Biswal said: “Opposition politicians remain behind bars simply because they gave voice to their views, and because the government’s skin is too thin to brook any criticism or competition.”
In May last year, US Secretary of State John Kerry had called Nasheed’s imprisonment on a terrorism charge “an injustice that needs to be addressed soon.”
A month later, Senators John McCain and Jack Reed urged the US government to press for Nasheed’s release. In August, four members of the US Congress wrote a letter to Yameen expressing concern over Nasheed’s imprisonment and the deterioration of democracy in the Maldives.