The Bangladesh government has hired a US law firm at a cost of $20,000 per month.
The one-year contract with the law firm Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP was signed over three weeks ago by Bangladesh’s foreign secretary, Masud Bin Momen, and will cost the government a total of $240,000 plus expenses.
“We will provide advice and assistance to support Bangladesh’s diplomatic activities in the United States, including advancement of bilateral relations between Bangladesh and the United States,” the law firm states in the signed agreement, dated January 31st 2022.
The contract, filed with the US Department of Justice on February 8th, suggests that the Bangladesh government has already paid an initial retainer payment of $60,000 to the law firm.
The contract with Nelson Mullins is an addition to the ongoing lobbying work undertaken by the lobbying firm BGR Government Affairs, which since 2014 has cost the Bangladesh government $2.3 million over nearly 8 years, as reported earlier by Netra News.
In recent weeks, Shahriar Alam, the state minister for foreign affairs, had told journalists that the government was thinking about hiring a new law firm to push back against the decision by the US government to impose sanctions on the country’s elite police unit, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), and seven of its current and former senior officials, including the current head of the country’s police force.
“We are very close to a decision for appointing a representative for speaking on behalf of us and fighting legally for us,” the minister said two days ago on February 22nd. “We would like to appoint a firm that can give us the best advice [regarding the withdrawal of sanctions against RAB].”
However, the contract with Nelson Mullins was signed over three weeks before this statement by the state minister.
The agreement also specifically mentions that the law firm is not providing any “legal services” to the Bangladesh government — but only assisting with lobbying.
“The services that Nelson Mullins is providing [the] Client, pursuant to this agreement, are government relations services. The government relations services are not legal services…”, the contract reads.
The forms filed with the US Department of Justice state that the law firm will “provide research, government relations and strategic consulting services” to the Bangladesh government and “may include communications with Members of Congress and Congressional staff, Executive Branch officials, the media, and with other individuals and organizations involved in governmental and public policy matters.” (sic)
On December 10th 2021, the US government imposed sanctions on the RAB and the seven officers under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights and Accountability Act, claiming that the “Widespread allegations of serious human rights abuse in Bangladesh by the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) — as part of the Bangladeshi government’s war on drugs — threaten US national security interests by undermining the rule of law and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the economic prosperity of the people of Bangladesh.”
Local and international human rights organisations have long documented RAB’s involvement in extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. The government has supported RAB against these allegations, denying that any of its law enforcement agencies are involved in unlawful killings, and claiming that there are no enforced disappearances in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh government ministers reacted sharply to the US government decision to impose sanctions claiming that it was “not fact based” but triggered by “some exaggerated information”. Six weeks later, two of the officers sanctioned by the US government were amongst those given police medals for “their bravery and service to the country in 2021” and no disciplinary action has been taken against the Inspector General of Police, Benazir Ahmed, who heads the police force.
The contract with the Bangladesh government was signed by the former Congressman Jim Moran, the law firm’s senior policy advisor. In 2020, The Hill newspaper named him as one of the “Top Lobbyists [of] 2020”. These “are the people who wielded their clout and knowledge most effectively for their clients,” according to the Washington, DC-based news organisation.
Neither Nelson Mullins nor the state minister have responded to requests for comment.●