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WASHINGTON - 14 Jul 2016

US firms hired by Kiir may not have complied with foreign agents law

Public relations companies and lobbying firms hired by the government of President Salva Kiir many not have complied fully with a US law that requires US companies to disclose when they are acting as the agent of a foreign government, according to a report today by a prize-winning US journalism organization.

South Sudan's government has paid millions of dollars to several US and British companies since the start of the civil war to protect its reputation and deflect pressure stemming from charges of atrocities and war crimes.

The Center for Public Integrity, winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize, says that South Sudan's government spent $2.1 million on Washington-based lobbying and public relations firms from 2014 to 2015 “to buff up its image... and stave off harsher U.S.-backed sanctions in response to its atrocities.”

Erin Quinn, a reporter for the Center for Public Integrity specializing in federal affairs, said that “it's not clear whether everyone who shilled for South Sudan complied with the Foreign Agents Registration Act.”

This is a law which requires companies to inform the US Justice Department when they are lobbying or advocating on behalf of a foreign government in a paid capacity. 

Quinn cited the example of a contract between R&R Partners and South Sudan's government. The company was paid $900,000 by South Sudan and is owed another $900,000 more. A former state governor working for the firm, Bill Owens, wrote an op-ed article in an influential Washington publication, The Hill, but failed to disclose his relationship under the foreign agents act, according to Quinn.

“I believe it is in our national interest to be engaged and to support the elected government of the world’s youngest nation,” wrote the former governor, implying that the collapse of the South Sudanese government could lead to the spread of Islamic terrorism.

Quinn noted, “The commentary did not say that Owens was paid $50,000 for his work on South Sudan through R&R. The Foreign Agents Registration Act dictates that a 'conspicuous statement' must be present on disseminated materials, disclosing the relationship between the firm and client.”  

Responding to this, Monica McCafferty of R&R Partners, who worked on the contract as well, said in an email that "the failure to issue the disclosure on the op-ed itself was an inadvertent human error and mistake, made in haste." Owens did not respond to requests for comment.

According to Quinn, R&R was not alone. Government affairs firm Watts Partners represented South Sudan from July 2015 to February 2016 as a subcontractor with London-based advisory firm Arise Consult. The firm provided "government-to-government advocacy and business development advisory services" for South Sudan for $120,000, documents show.

Center for Public Integrity alleges that the company did not disclose its relationship as a foreign agent of the South Sudanese government until after pressed by the investigative organization for more information about its work.

“The Watts Partners website does not mention South Sudan either, and the firm submitted required disclosures to the Justice Department only after the Center for Public Integrity inquired about the relationship. Filings showed that Watts Partners met with lawmakers, State Department officials and nonprofits to discuss sanctions and US-South Sudan relations,” reads the investigative report.

In a separate but similar article published in Vice News, Quinn also discusses the relationship between lobby firm Podesta Group and the Clinton presidential campaign. Radio Tamazuj last month reported on links between Podesta Group's founder and advocacy group Enough Project. The campaign group downplayed these ties in a rebuttal published on their website, stressing that Enough's organization was chaired by John Podesta whereas the head of the lobby firm was his brother Tony Podesta, limiting any perceived conflict of interest.