JLP confesses Manatt deal a party initiative

(Jamaica Observer) – The ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) has admitted that the decision to approach US law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips originated within its ranks and revealed that the mystery government minister who met  State Department officials and representatives of the law firm was junior foreign minister Dr Ronald Robinson.

But according to Karl Samuda, the JLP general secretary who was mandated by the party to probe the controversy, the government had no hand in any of the arrangements and did not make any payments to the law firm.

“The Government of Jamaica did not enter into any contractual arrangement with Manatt, Phelps & Phillips and therefore no payments were made to the firm by the Government of Jamaica,” Samuda said in a statement in reference to queries over the source of the US$49,892.62 Manatt said it was paid for its services.

Samuda gave a chronological report of the controversy in which the Government has been embroiled for more than a month and which is linked to the United States’ request for the extradition of Tivoli Gardens don Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke.

The extradition request for Coke, who the Americans accuse of drug-and arms-trafficking, was submitted to the Jamaican Government in August last year. However, the Bruce Golding-led Government has refused to process the request, arguing that the evidence submitted by the US against Coke was illegally obtained.

In his statement on Tuesday, Samuda said that in September last year, persons within the JLP approached Jamaican attorney Harold Brady “to see whether, through his wide network of international contacts, he could assist in facilitating the opening of discussions between the US authorities and the Government of Jamaica, and thereby seek to resolve what had become a treaty dispute between the US and Jamaica”.

Added Samuda: “I am aware that Mr Brady’s firm retained the services of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips on or about October 2009, to pursue discussions with relevant officials of the Government. I am advised that all payment arrangements to Manatt, Phelps & Phillips were transacted between the two firms. The Government of Jamaica had nothing to do with any aspect of these arrangements.”

He repeated the Government’s admission that Solicitor General Douglas Leys met with representatives of Manatt at Brady’s invitation, but said that the talks were exploratory and were focused on alternative approaches that have been taken in similar treaty disputes with the US.

“The solicitor general made it clear that the Government of Jamaica saw no need at that stage to engage their services, but would be prepared to consider doing so should the need arise,” Samuda said, adding that Leys accepted a suggestion that a representative of Manatt attend the planned meeting with the State and Justice departments as an observer, which he did with the full approval of the State Department.

“The solicitor general, who had had no previous contact with Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, was not then aware that the firm had already been retained by Brady & Company,” said Samuda. “He has had no further contact with the firm since that encounter in December.”

Samuda also responded to an April 15 Washington Post report that revealed that a Jamaican Government minister attended a meeting with Manatt and State Department representatives.

He fingered Robinson as the minister to whom the Post referred but said it was “a brief social encounter”.

But last night, opposition spokesman Dr Peter Phillips, who brought the Manatt issue to public attention in Parliament on March 16, said Samuda’s statement “raises more questions than it provides answers”.

He questioned what interest the JLP, as a political party, would have in treaty matters between two governments and said the statement suggested that the JLP was confusing its party political interests and its responsibilities to the people of Jamaica and the public interest.

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