Taiwan pays $900,000 for ally Guatemala to lobby Washington

Ballard Partners registered as a international agent with the U.S. Justice Department on Jan. 13, in accordance to new filings made public over the weekend. The contract, dated Jan. 12, was signed by Alfonso Quinonez, Guatemala’s ambassador to the U.S., and Brian Ballard, president of the namesake lobbying agency and a longtime Trump ally.

It’s not clear how hiring Ballard, who years earlier than Trump ran for the White House labored for him as a lobbyist in Florida, might be in a position to assist Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei draw nearer to the Democratic administration of President Joe Biden, which has repeatedly expressed considerations about corruption within the Central American nation.

On Sunday, the U.S. State Department blasted Giammattei’s authorities for searching for to raise the immunity from prosecution of a decide who has gained excessive honors in Washington for exposing bribery in Guatemala.

“This motion in opposition to an internationally acknowledged unbiased decide weakens an important pillar of Guatemala’s democracy and judicial system,” spokesman Ned Price stated in a press release.

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In its registration, Ballard solely stated it might present “strategic consulting and advocacy companies” associated to Guatemala’s interactions with the U.S. authorities and U.S. officers.

Justin Sayfie, a associate in Ballard’s Washington workplace, declined to remark additional. But he stated that the request for Taiwan to assume duty for fee was not the agency’s idea.

“It’s uncommon for one authorities to be paying the charges for lobbying for one other authorities,” stated Robert Kelner, an legal professional specializing in compliance with international lobbying legal guidelines for Covington & Burling. “It’s not unlawful. But it does increase a query of whether or not the federal government that pays additionally wants to be listed by the lobbying agency as a international principal.”

Guatemala in a press release thanked Taiwan for “the help that enables us to strengthen our positioning within the U.S.” It stated the one yr contract with Ballard, for which it’s paying $75,000 a month, will give attention to strategic communication, investor outreach and selling tourism.

Guatemala is one in all solely 13 largely small, growing nations that also has full diplomatic relations with Taiwan, which break up from mainland communist-run China amid civil conflict in 1949.

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Taiwan previously has donated fleets of buses, agricultural tools and different high-profile items to its allies. But it has been unable to compete with China, which considers Taiwan a breakaway territory and has aggressively labored to isolate it on the world stage.

Recently, Beijing secured diplomatic recognition from Guatemala’s neighbors Nicaragua and El Salvador. Honduras’ new president, Xiomara Castro, as a candidate additionally threatened to open ties to Beijing however however has since backtracked on the idea.

Giammattei, a legislation and order conservative, managed to bypass criticism in Washington and forge a productive relationship with the Trump administration by yielding to the White House’s stress to embrace an asylum settlement negotiated by his predecessor that he opposed when he ran for the presidency in 2019.

But he is struggled to construct shut ties to the Biden administration, which has sought to undo Trump’s immigration insurance policies and brought a harsher take a look at corruption and rule of legislation points within the so-called “Norther Triangle” nations of Central America.

Biden did not invite Giammattei to his Democracy summit final yr and in June Vice President Kamala Harris, in a go to to Guatemala, described having a really frank dialog with the Guatemalan chief about the significance of sustaining an unbiased judiciary.

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The shift towards a much less unbiased justice system started earlier than Giammattei took workplace however has continued on his watch.

Ballard will handle the account together with two associates with in depth ties to the Republican Party: Jose Diaz, a former Florida state consultant who’s a managing associate of Ballard’s workplace in Miami; and Sayfie, a one time adviser to former Florida Governor Jeb Bush who additionally headed the president’s fee on White House Fellowships in the course of the Trump administration. A 3rd affiliate representing Guatemala, John O’Hanlon, is a longtime Democrat.

Ballard amassed dozens of international and home lobbying shoppers in the course of the Trump presidency — together with Qatar, the Dominican Republic and Zimbabwe — when he was described by Politico as “The Most Powerful Lobbyist in Trump’s Washington.”

More lately, it has added quite a lot of influential Democratic fundraisers and named former Congressman Robert Wexler, a Florida Democrat, as managing associate of its Washington workplace to bolster its credentials with the Biden White House.

AP Writer Sonia Perez D. contributed to this report from Guatemala City.

Follow Goodman: @APJoshGoodman

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