By Jason Horowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 26, 2010; 5:12 PM
The ongoing violence in Jamaica continues to generate unwelcome scrutiny toward a prominent U.S. lobbying firm that played a mysterious role in extradition negotiations between the two governments leading up to a military manhunt for a drug kingpin with political ties to the Jamaican prime minister.
Since The Washington Post reported in April on the involvement of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips in the delicate talks between the State Department and the Jamaican leadership about the extradition of the powerful gangster Christopher "Dudus" Coke, statements by Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding have renewed questions about the extent of the firm's involvement.
Reversing a previous denial, Golding said in a speech before parliament on May 11 that an emissary of his political party named Harold Brady retained Manatt for work to "resolve what was seen as a treaty dispute between Jamaica and the U.S."
The firm, Golding said, "offered to assist on a professional, retainer basis" to pursue "discussions with relevant officials of the U.S. government." Those discussions, he said in his speech, were for "issues relating to the extradition request."
Manatt has maintained that it was working for the "government of Jamaica through Harold C.W. Brady of Brady and Co.," which is how it lists its client on an official registration with the Department of Justice in an October 2009 contract. More nettlesome for Manatt is the allegation that it worked to assist the Jamaicans in their efforts to block the extradition of Coke, the alleged head of the Shower Posse criminal organization.
The firm said this week that Golding's assertion that it had been hired to work on the extradition case was not true. According to a statement by Monte M. Lemann, Manatt's general counsel, Jamaica hired the firm to work on treaty matters, including issues "related to the extradition treaty and not assistance with respect to any specific individual. The firm was not retained to deal with the Coke matter."
U.S. officials, however, have said that the talks involving Manatt focused primarily on the Coke extradition case. Attorneys from Manatt had at least six contacts with Obama administration officials from October to December, including one meeting that included a Jamaican official and representatives of the State and Justice departments, according to U.S. officials and documents.
Golding and Manatt don't disagree on everything. As far as the potentially explosive speculation in the Jamaican media that their $49,892.62 fee was paid out of Coke's coffers, they are both emphatic.
"Rumors and speculation carried in the media that these funds were provided by Christopher Coke are completely false," Golding said in parliament.
"The firm was never employed by or did work for Christopher Coke," Lemann said in a statement.