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February 10, 2011 11:20 AM

Locke Lord Retained in Pakistan; Patton Boggs Disputes Conflict Allegations

Posted by Brian Baxter

It's not just Patton Boggs that's involved in international incidents this week.

Patton Boggs foreign affairs adviser Frank Wisner II's role as Obama administration emissary in Egypt has stirred controversy, as the firm disputes a report in a British newspaper that there's a conflict between its past work for the Egyptian government and Wisner's current efforts to convince the country's president Hosni Mubarak to relinquish power. Meanwhile, the family of another longtime U.S. ally, Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari, has hired Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell for a possible libel suit against the Jang Media Group, the Pakistani press reports.

The Zardari family claims that Jang published a false story about Zardari. Locke Lord lawyers for the Zardari-Bhutto family--Zardari's wife was the late Benazir Bhutto, slain in a terrorist attack in December 2007--reportedly have requested that Jang publish a retraction and apologize for the report or face legal action.

Searches of federal lobbying records reveal that Locke Lord's lobbying arm represented Zardari's Pakistan Peoples Party and the Pakistani embassy in the U.S. in 2008. A Locke Lord spokeswoman confirmed the firm's role in the Jang matter and referred us to a firm press release from two years ago detailing its relationship with Pakistan. Mark Siegel, a lobbying partner from the firm's office in Washington, D.C., reported by the Pakistani press to be representing Zardari in the Jang matter, did not respond to a request for comment.

The media flap comes at a time when Pakistani law enforcement officials have named former president Pervez Musharraf in a charge sheet sent to a special antiterrorism court probing the circumstances surrounding Bhutto's death, although Musharraf has not been indicted. Senior Pakistani public prosecutor Chaudhry Zulfiqar told local media that the former president removed a security detail from Bhutto just before she was assassinated, according to BBC News.

Another ruler who could soon join Musharraf in exile, Egypt's Mubarak, is still clinging to power, as the row over comments made by unofficial Obama administration emissary Wisner at a security conference in Munich over the weekend begin to die down. (Wisner said Mubarak should stay in office while transferring power, an idea that the U.S. State Department quickly backed away from.)

As we reported last week, Wisner, the son of a former CIA official of the same name, served as the U.S. ambassador to Egypt from 1986 to 1991. He developed close ties to leading Egyptians inside and outside of the Mubarak regime. After four decades in the Foreign Service, Wisner joined American International Group, rising to vice-chairman of external affairs for the ailing insurance giant, before he retired in February 2009 and joined Patton Boggs.

British newspaper The Independent on Monday suggested Wisner had a conflict of interest in his dealings with Mubarak, citing Patton Boggs's previous representation of the Egyptian government. We didn't find any recent engagements for the firm when we searched lobbying records last week, so we reached out to a Patton Boggs spokeswoman on Monday for comment. We haven't heard back.

But Patton Boggs managing partner Edward Newberry told Salon.com late Monday that the firm's work for the Egyptian government was limited to the mid-1990s, plus a small engagement for the country's embassy in Washington last year that generated less than $10,000 in legal fees. Wisner was not involved in the 2010 matter, Newberry told Salon.

With Wisner's mission completed, and the Mubarak regime still clinging to power, former U.S. attorney general and current Debevoise & Plimpton partner Michael Mukasey wrote an op-ed for Fox News on Wednesday urging Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to take steps against the ruling mullahs in Iran to prevent them from co-opting unrest in Egypt and Yemen.

South of Egypt, another international flash point, Sudan, made the news this week, when an electoral commission released the final votes in last month's referendum by southern Sudanese on a possible split from the country's north. The results were overwhelming: 98.83 percent of voters in southern Sudan voted to create a new country with its capital in the African city of Juba. (Click here for more on the vote.) The U.S. has already accepted the results and began the process of removing Sudan's central government, which is based in Khartoum, from its list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Sudan itself has had its own issues with lobbyists in the U.S. from large law firms, but we were curious about whether the country's breakaway region in the oil-rich south had retained its own high-powered counsel to advocate for its interests abroad. Federal lobbying records show that an independent diplomatic advisory group based in New York is representing the de facto government of Southern Sudan.

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