investigation 14 Nov 12

Kosovo Govt Paid to Help President Meet US Officials

Atifete Jahjaga’s office denies paying a lobbying firm to help set up meetings in the US - but the company’s disclosure to the US Justice Department reveals that Kosovo’s government paid it to do just that.

By Parim Olluri
Pristina Insight
Pristina

Mystery remains over whether the government of Kosovo paid a top Washington lobbying firm to help President Atifete Jahjaga meet top US officials, including Barack Obama, in 2011.

While the President’s office says no money was exchanged to secure the US meetings, a company disclosure filed with the US government suggests the opposite.

Patton Boggs reported to the US Justice Department that it earned 191,753 US dollars (150,017 euro) from the government of Kosovo for its efforts during a six months ending December 31, 2011.

The firm reported contacting U.S officials and Congressional staffers about bilateral relations between Kosovo and the United States.

The two-sentence report, which is routine and required by American law, noted that the firm “supported the visit of the President of Kosovo in Washington and assisted in arranging meetings with governmental officials.”

Jahjaga visited the US twice in 2011, in September and December. She met President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, among other senior officials.

Patton Boggs did not reply to Prishtina Insight’s request for more information about the lobbying activities disclosed in the report, so it is unclear which meetings it helped arrange.

It is also unclear whether the report is connected with a 600,000 US dollar a year contract that Patton Poggs signed with the Kosovo government in 2011 for “advisory services on legal and advocacy issues to be used for expansion of bilateral and multilateral relations.”
The Finance Ministry did not respond to an inquiry from Prishtina Insight.

No paid-for meetings:

The Ministry declined to reveal how much Kosovo spent on the lobbying connected with Jahjaga’s visit. Menderes Ibra, a spokesman for the minister, Bedri Hamza, said only the office of the President could release such information. But the President’s office denied spending any money on US lobbying.

“We haven’t paid any company to arrange any meetings for President Jahjaga during her visits to the US,” Arber Vllahiu, a spokesman for President Jahjaga, said.

Vllahiu added that presidential visits are held according to the official protocol in which the respective embassies are engaged. The Kosovo embassy in Washington did not respond when asked about Patton Boggs report.

Troubled contract:

The government initially hired Patton Boggs in September 2010. But the government canceled the deal in November that year after Prishtina Insight revealed that it appeared to violate Kosovo’s law on public procurement, as no bidding process had occurred.

But the deal was quietly revived in July 2011, when the Foreign Ministry asked the Agency of Public Procurement to allow a one-source tender. The ministry justified this by saying that the contract required confidentiality.

During Jahjaga’s December 2011 visit, in addition to meeting Clinton, she also met the then Undersecretary of Defense, Michele Flournoy, Attorney General Eric Holder, FBI Director Robert Mueller. Senators Mark Kirk and Ross Johnson, and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, whose company is also seeking to buy a stake in Post and Telecommunications of Kosovo, PTK.

Earlier, in September, Jahjaga met President Obama at a reception for world leaders held at the UN General Assembly. She also met former President Bill Clinton during his Clinton Global Initiative conference.

During the same visit in September, Jahjaga also met Frank Wisner, Patton Boggs’ foreign affairs adviser. Wisner has long been involved in Kosovo. He was the US special representative on talks about the status of Kosovo before it declared independence in 2008.

According to the President’s office, Jahjaga invited Wisner to join an initiative called “Friends of Kosovo” whose stated goal is to expand diplomatic relations with countries with which Kosovo has no official relations. Wisner reportedly signed on.

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