Washington based Podesta Group was hired by the Maldives government to “whitewash their crimes,” the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has said.
“Government officials are clearly rattled at the prospect of facing targeted sanctions. But rather than doing the right thing and freeing the political prisoners, they are spending obscene amounts of public money on foreign lobbyists, who will try to whitewash their crimes,” said Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, the party’s international spokesman.
A contract published on the US Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) office’s website states that the Podesta Group has been employed for a monthly sum of US$50,000 to “provide strategic counsel on strengthening” the Maldives’ ties to the US government.
Ahmed Sareer, the permanent representative of the Maldives to the UN, signed the agreement on behalf of the Maldives. The contract runs from September 8, 2015 through March 7, 2016.
Jailed former President Mohamed Nasheed’s lawyers have threatened to lobby for targeted sanctions if he is not freed after a UN ruling on his imprisonment.
The government had employed London-based Omnia Strategy to respond to the UN. The PR and legal firm is chaired by Cherie Blair, the wife of former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair.
The Attorney General’s Office initially denied reports of hiring Podesta. When the agreement was made public, the office said the foreign ministry had handled the contract.
“We have not engaged alternate counsel on former President Nasheed’s case,” said Ismail Wisham, the assistant attorney general.
Omnia’s contract will end once a decision on the UN opinion is issued, he added.
The MDP condemned the government for lying over hiring Podesta Group, although Wisham blamed it on a communication gap because of a Eid holidays last week.
“Cherie Blair’s Omnia Strategies has proved to be as incompetent as it is unethical. It has done nothing for the Government other than attract awful newspaper headlines. I call on the Government to reveal how much money they paid Blair.” Ghafoor said.
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.”