President denies Gov’t hired U.S. lobby firm, but legal documents suggest otherwise
President David Granger Friday afternoon added a bizarre twist to news that the Government had hired a Washington-based firm to push APNU+AFC elections narrative in the United States. In fact, the President said he knew nothing of it and he also did not know the firm was hired by his right-hand man, Joseph Harmon, on behalf of the Government.
Despite the President’s denial that the Government hired the company, the legal documents filed by the company with the U.S. Department of Justice show the company landed a contract with the “Government of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana” of “Shiv Chanderpaul Drive, Bourda Georgetown GUYANA.”
Harmon runs the President’s office, known as the Ministry of the President. In federal documents, the firm JJ&B, LLC said it was hired by the Government of Guyana, stating the Ministry of the Presidency’s address. It said the person it was engaging with is Harmon.
Harmon admitted that the firm was hired by the Government, saying it was meant to counter arguments being peddled by the PPP in Washington.
“We believe as a Government, it was our duty, our responsibility to ensure our narrative. The facts as they occur should be placed there in these capitals and therefore we felt it was necessary to have a company that has that access to be able to put out our side of the story,” Harmon said on Thursday.
But on Friday afternoon, the President’s office said the statements were “erroneous” that the government and by extension the President had hired JJ&B, LLC.
“The Government of Guyana has not hired JJ&B, LLC and has no contractual arrangement or affiliation with the said firm. No Government funds were used to hire the firm,” the President’s office said.
It said President Granger was not involved in the hiring of the said lobby firm.
Further, the President’s office said it “wishes to make pellucid that the President is not a citizen of the United States of America or any other foreign country as is being suggested by way of documents submitted to the United States Department of Justice and published in the press. He is Guyanese.”
The Ministry said it “urges citizens to be responsible when making public statements and at all times seek out the truth rather than disseminating spurious claims.”
It was Harmon who said the company was retained by the Government to push back against growing concerns in the United States over the APNU+AFC’s insistence that it had won the March 02 elections though the vote count in the largest electoral district was deemed as fraudulent.
The Director-General said the false information is being spread by the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) through a lobbyist firm it hired in 2019 –Mercury Public Affairs –for that purpose.
He said it is the Government’s duty to publicise the “facts” to counter what is being perpetuated.
Public documents on the U.S Department of Justice website shows four other persons receiving US$8,000 each for an initial cumulative payment of US$72,000 from the Government of Guyana.
But Harmon later told the media that government funds were not being used and that it was “upset supporters” of APNU+AFC who were putting the money to pay the firm.
The United States Government has threatened to implement sanctions against Guyana if a Government is sworn in using fraudulent results.
Harmon said the dossier which was filed with the Department of Justice was presented to a team of CARICOM leaders who visited Guyana in March and brokered an agreement between the President and Opposition Leader for a national recount of all ballots from March 2.
He said it was also given to other persons.
That dossier lists both the President and Harmon as citizens of the United States.
The US’ Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) requires certain agents of foreign principals who are engaged in political activities to make periodic public disclosure of their relationship with the foreign principal, as well as activities, receipts and disbursements in support of those activities.
This is what the lobby firm did and named the Government of Guyana as the foreign principal it is working for.
Disclosure of the required information facilitates evaluation by the government and the American people of the activities of such persons in light of their function as foreign agents, the FARA website states.
The lobby firm did say it was doing political work and disclosed that it was being paid an initial retainer fee for the month of April of US$40,000. Four other persons working with the firm did disclose they were being paid US$8,000 each.
Individuals who wilfully violate statutory FARA provisions or associated regulations are subject to fines up to US$10,000 and imprisonment up to five years.
The penalty for a willful violation of FARA is imprisonment for not more than five years, a fine of up to $250,000, or both.
Certain violations are considered misdemeanors, with penalties of imprisonment of not more than six months, a fine of not more than $5,000, or both. There are also civil enforcement provisions that empower the Attorney General to seek an injunction requiring registration under FARA (for applicable activities) or correcting a deficient registration statement.
It is unclear at this time how FARA agents would react to the government here saying it has not hired JJ&B LLC despite the firm filing documents saying so.
Attempts by the News Room to contact Mr Harmon for comment have so far proved futile.