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EXCLUSIVE: US firm with links to IPOB denies lobbying for Okonjo-Iweala’s WTO bid (updated)

EXCLUSIVE: US firm with links to IPOB denies lobbying for Okonjo-Iweala’s WTO bid (updated)
July 10
12:47 2020

Mercury Public Affairs, an American lobbying firm, has denied it was engaged by Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in her bid for the top job at the World Trade Organization (WTO).

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Mercury represents Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the separatist Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), and this is believed to have created some discomfort among officials of the federal government of Nigeria.

But there is no evidence that the former minister of finance was aware of Mercury’s links to IPOB, which is classified as a terrorist group by the Nigerian government.

In a statement dated July 9, 2020 and sent to TheCable, Morris L. Reid, a partner at the firm, said: “Mercury does not and has never had a contract to represent Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s campaign for WTO. Her campaign team is comprised of volunteers.”

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Mercury had, however, filed lobbying registration for Okonjo-Iweala with the senate and house of representatives on June 5, 2020 — with identification numbers 30174 (house) and 70175 (senate).

This is required under the US Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 (Section 5).

The lobbying registration with Okonjo-Iweala listed as client (last line)

The lobbyists were named as Morris ​Reid and ​Alex ​Walker while Adina Taluto, the contact for Mercury, signed the document.

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“Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala” was named as the client and the brief disclosed as “building support for World Trade Organization candidacy with World Trade Organization member countries”.

Curiously, Mercury filed a lobbying report the following day to terminate the registration.

A source close to Okonjo-Iweala said it was a volunteer that engaged Mercury on a pro-bono basis “but she screamed when she was told of the firm’s IPOB links” — leading to the termination of the registration.

Okonjo-Iweala said on Tuesday that she did not have the money to hire lobbyists, pleading for volunteers to help her out.

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TheCable, however, understands that the UK arm of Mercury is still handling lobbying for her.

British journalists wishing to contact Okonjo-Iweala are directed to call the Washington office of Mercury, TheCable learnt.

Under UK laws, strict disclosure is not required for client information.

Kanu is also on the stable of Mercury

Mercury handles lobbying in the US for the IPOB leader, according to its filing with the US department of justice.

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Kanu is charged a consultancy fee of $85,000 per month — in addition to a one-off compliance fee of $5,000.

The one-year contract runs from September 23, 2019.

In a press release disseminated globally on behalf of IPOB, Mercury said the Nigerian separatist group had submitted materials “chronicling human rights abuses perpetrated against Biafrans in Nigeria to Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur for Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions at the United Nations”.

IPOB alleged that Nigerian Christians were being massacred by “Fulani extremists” — an allegation denied by the federal government.

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OKONJO-IWEALA DISTANCES CAMPAIGN FROM MERCURY

Paul Nwabuikwu, Okonjo-Iweala’s media aide, said via a statement on Friday that Mercury has “done voluntary, pro bono work for the Campaign”.

He said there is an attempt to misrepresent the campaign and “paint the candidate and her campaign in negative light”.

“An example of this is the effort to misrepresent the Campaign’s relationship with Mercury Communications, one of the organizations and individuals that have done voluntary, pro bono work for the Campaign.”

He said Okonjo-Iweala “will continue to do her best to make her candidacy count for the country”.

In another statement by Mercury, the organisation said “a small number of Mercury employees are volunteering to help Dr Ngozi in her campaign for WTO Director-General”.

“She is not a client of our firm and the campaign has never had a contract with Mercury. An administrative error was made when the staff volunteered, leading to a precautionary LDA registration. This was cancelled because it was unnecessary.”

Okonjo-Iweala is one of eight candidates running for the WTO top job, with hopes of becoming the first female DG of the organisation.

Editor’s Note: This report has been updated to reflect Nwabuikwu’s statement and Mercury’s volunteering disclosure.

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