International pressure mounts over Dudus, Manatt

(Jamaica Gleaner) The firestorm raging over the extradition request for Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke and the possible role of United States law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips blazed on Thursday with a damning report in an American publication.

The Washington Post newspaper reported US administration officials as saying they had no reason to believe that Manatt was representing anyone other than the Jamaican Government.

The connection between the two is at the heart of the local controversy as the Golding administration has repeatedly denied it contracted the law firm, despite postings on the US Department of Justice website which state otherwise.

The Golding administration has challenged anyone to provide proof that it contracted the law firm but has presented no evidence to the contrary.

However, an article published on Thursday in The Washington Post claimed US administration officials were adamant that the firm represented the Jamaican Government.

While not naming the officials, The Washington Post reported that: “Last fall, the blue-chip law firm of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips signed a US$400,000 contract to lobby on behalf of the Government of Jamaica, spending the next several months talking with the White House and other administration officials about why the United States should not extradite an accused Kingston drug kingpin.”

In the article, titled ‘Dispute involving Manatt law firm, accused drug kingpin strains US-Jamaica relations’, The Washington Post quotes Obama administration officials as questioning the role being played by Manatt in the extradition request for Coke.

“It was unusual, but this whole case is unusual,” The Washington Post quoted the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.

According to the publication: “The Manatt firm, which is headquartered in Los Angeles, declined to comment, citing client confidentiality.”

The publication also reported that while the records filed by Manatt with the US Department of Justice said only treaty issues were discussed, administration officials said the talks were primarily focused on Jamaica’s refusal to extradite Coke.

“Attorneys from Manatt had at least six contacts with Obama administration officials over the next three months, including one meeting in mid-December that included a Jamaican minister and officials from the State and Justice departments, according to US officials and documents,” The Washington Post claimed. “And above it all hangs a question: If the Government of Jamaica didn’t pay Manatt, who did?” the newspaper questioned. The Washington Post is the latest in a string of high-profile international media entities to take on the Coke issue and the subsequent controversy with Manatt, Phelps & Phillips.

Last week, one of the most respected legal publications in the United States, the Am Law Daily, published an article – titled ‘Lobbying Pact Puts Manatt at Centre of Jamaican Political Storm’ – in which it chronicled the details of the controversy that has captured the attention of the nation since last month.

Last week, Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail also produced an editorial bashing the Jamaican Government over its stance on the extradition request for Coke, who is wanted in the US to answer drug and gun charges.

The controversy surrounding the government’s decision against signing the authority to go ahead with extradition proceedings for west Kingston strongman Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke is now before the Supreme Court.

On Thursday, the government filed a motion seeking declarations as to the powers of the minister of justice under the Extradition Act.

Minister of Justice, Senator Dorothy Lightbourne, is asking the court to declare what she can take into account in deciding to issue the authority to proceed in extradition matters.

The hearing has been set for May 5.

One of the issues the court will have to decide on is whether the allegations against Coke were obtained in breach of the Interception of Communications Act.

The government is contending that the United States illegally obtained wiretap evidence that was being used to prosecute Coke. There have been heated debates since the US issued its request in August last year for Coke’s extradition. He is wanted on charges of drug and firearm trafficking.

Prime Minister Bruce Golding has previously said in Parliament that the government would only sign the request if the US is able to provide further and better particulars indicating why Coke should be sent there to stand trial.

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