April 7, 2010 5:17 PM
Lobbying Pact Puts Manatt at Center of Jamaican Political Storm
Posted by Brian Baxter
Last August, federal prosecutors in Manhattan unsealed an indictment against Christopher "Dudus" Coke charging the Kingston, Jamaica, businessman with conspiracy to distribute drugs and illegal firearms. In laying out the case against Coke, the indictment cited, among other things, evidence from seven telephone conversations that allegedly captured the accused drug lord discussing the sale of guns, marijuana, and cocaine in New York and Jamaica.
A press release accompanying the indictment described Coke, 40, as the longtime leader of "an international criminal organization known as the 'Shower Posse,'" and noted that the U.S. Justice Department considers him among "the world's most dangerous narcotics kingpins." The release went on to quote U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara as calling Coke's indictment "another important step in our bringing to justice the world's most dangerous criminals, wherever they may be found."
It hasn't been that easy. More than seven months after the indictment was unsealed and Jamaican authorities were asked to hand Coke over, he has yet to be extradited to the U.S. The delay--and questions about what exactly is behind it--has touched off a political firestorm in Jamaica. And a $400,000-a-year contract to lobby U.S. officials on behalf of the Jamaican government has put Manatt, Phelps & Phillips squarely in the middle of that storm.
According to Jamaican press accounts, Prime Minister Bruce Golding won't deliver Coke to U.S. authorities because he believes the wiretap evidence cited in the indictment was obtained illegally. Golding's foes in the People's National Party (PNP) accuse Golding of having a more sinister reason for blocking the extradition: close ties between his ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), which has its base in Kingston's tough Tivoli Gardens garrison, and Coke, whose family, according to this article in The Economist, has long controlled the same hardscrabble section of the city.
An annual U.S. State Department report on the global drug trade published March 1 lends credence to the opposition's theory. Without identifying Coke by name, the report says, "Jamaica's delay in processing the U.S. extradition request for a suspected major drugs-and-firearms trafficker with reported ties to the ruling party highlights the potential depth of corruption in the government."
It was also in March that PNP members first publicly questioned whether Manatt was aiding Golding's effort to stymie the extradition. Their ammunition: documents filed with the Justice Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act that show the firm agreeing to lobby U.S. officials on behalf of the Jamaican government under a deal brokered by a Kingston-based private attorney named Harold Brady.
None of Manatt's Jamaican FARA filings refer explicitly to the Coke case--or any other specific matter. What the documents show is a relationship that began within a month of Coke's indictment, resulted in Manatt attorneys having five separate contacts with U.S. officials on unspecified "treaty issues," and ended about a month before Golding's political enemies started to make an issue of the arrangement.
Manatt first notified the Justice Department of its lobbying efforts on behalf of Jamaica in a FARA filing dated October 13, 2009. The filing, signed by international trade partner Susan Schmidt, states that the foreign principal it is representing is the "Government of Jamaica through Harold C.W. Brady of Brady and Co." The filing further states that the firm "will be speaking with members of the Executive Branch to provide information on issues regarding existing political and economic matters, including existing treaty agreements between Jamaica and the U.S." Existing treaties between the countries include pacts covering extradition and mutual legal assistance.
Attached to the filing is an unsigned six-page engagement letter addressed to Brady dated October 1, 2009, and identifying founding firm partner Charles Manatt as its author. (A copy of the same engagement letter, this one signed by a representative of Brady's firm, is attached to a subsequent Manatt FARA filing.)
The engagement letter reaffirms, that in exchange for fees of $100,000-per-quarter, the firm "will represent and advise Brady and Co., Attorneys-at-Law...in connection with political and economic matters, including existing treaty agreements between Jamaica and the U.S."
A subsequent FARA filing, dated February 4, 2010, shows that Brady had already paid Manatt close to $50,000 on September 18, 2009--the only payment the firm reported receiving under the agreement. The February filing also shows that Manatt's lobbying efforts amounted to three meetings, a phone call, and an e-mail exchange with a total of three government officials-two from the State Department and one national intelligence officer-over unspecified "treaty issues."
The three Manatt partners identified in the FARA filings as playing a role in the Jamaican lobbying effort--Manatt, Schmidt, and litigation partner Kevin DiGregory--either declined to comment or did not return calls when contacted by The Am Law Daily. The firm's managing partner and CEO William Quicksilver also did not respond to a request for comment. Manatt spokesman Lawrence Martinez offered the following statement: "Client confidentiality is of utmost importance to the firm. We will not discuss our relationship with our client."
For their part, both Brady and Golding publicly maintain that, despite what the FARA filings say, Jamaica's government was never Manatt's client, according to local press accounts. Brady says he was acting as a private businessman when he hired the firm, not as a middleman for the government. Golding, too, claims that Brady wasn't acting in any official capacity.
As an added wrinkle, Golding and Jamaica's solicitor general, Douglas Leys, have acknowledged, according to reporting by the Jamaica Gleaner (here and here), that a Manatt attorney, at Brady's suggestion, did sit in on one meeting Leys had with U.S. officials in Washington, D.C., on the Coke matter, but only to familiarize himself with the relevant issues in case his services were required in the future.
Last week, Golding moved on two fronts to quell the mounting controversy over the Coke extradition: asking Jamaica's courts to rule on whether the alleged drug lord should be turned over to the U.S. and ordering the country's attorney general to notify Manatt that it was not authorized to represent the Jamaican government.
(Coke, meanwhile, has tapped Tom Tavares-Finson, one of Jamaica's top defense attorneys, to represent him. Tavares-Finson, who also happens to be a government-appointed senator and member of the JLP's electoral commission, declined to discuss Manatt's alleged involvement when contacted by The Am Law Daily.)
Asked to confirm whether Manatt lawyers met with government officials to discuss the Coke extradition, State Department spokesman Fred Lash declined to discuss specific cases. Lash did say, "It would be a routine matter to discuss it, because anytime there is an immigration or extradition type of case, that's where we get involved." (A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment on the Coke case. A spokeswoman for Bharara's office also declined to comment beyond the press release announcing Coke's indictment.)
Marc Mukasey, head of Bracewell & Giuliani's white-collar and criminal defense practice and a former chief of the narcotics unit at the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan, notes that it's not uncommon for extraditions to drag on for years and that Jamaica can pose special challenges.
"There is this rule of comity in Jamaica that essentially says, 'If it's not a crime here in Jamaica, we're not going to extradite you for it,'" says Mukasey, who has no personal knowledge of the Coke case but handled several high-profile extraditions involving Jamaican defendants while he was a federal prosecutor. Still, he says, "I certainly think that the Southern District prosecutors are good enough that if they say they have probable cause and a grand jury indicted the guy, I'd go with that."
Mukasey adds that in his experience it would be highly unusual for an outside firm to get involved in an extradition case on behalf of a foreign government.
"I've never heard of a private firm being hired by a foreign government to fight a U.S. extradition," says Mukasey, the son of former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey. "U.S. firms fight extraditions all the time on behalf of individual defendants--think of Roman Polanski--but not by advising the foreign sovereign." (As it happens, Manatt represented Polanski in his bid to overturn the conviction that prompted him to flee the U.S. more than three decades ago.)
This is not the first time Manatt has represented the Jamaican government. Indeed, the firm's first FARA filing on record, from 1985, was on behalf of the country. Other countries the firm has lobbied for over the years include Costa Rica, Cyprus, Ukraine, and the Dominican Republic. The latter country--where Charles Manatt, a former Democratic National Committee chairman, served as U.S. ambassador from 1999 to 2001--is the only foreign government for which the firm is currently acting as an agent.
That's because in a March 18 FARA filing made two days after Golding's political foes first questioned the government's ties to Manatt, the firm informed the Justice Department that it had "ceased activities on behalf of the Government of Jamaica through Harold C.W. Brady of Brady and Co. as of February 8, 2010."
Make a comment