Law firm scraps contract to work for Maduro government after criticism

By Theodoric Meyer

The law and lobbying firm Foley & Lardner has scrapped a multimillion-dollar contract to represent the Venezuelan government of Nicolás Maduro following criticism of the move, according to two people familiar with the matter.

The move came after Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) wrote in a letter to the law firm on Tuesday that he was “disgusted” it had agreed to represent Maduro’s government, which is under U.S. sanctions for abuses, including human rights violations and restricting freedom of the press,

Two Foley & Lardner lawyers registered as foreign agents last week on behalf of Reinaldo Muñoz Pedroza, who serves as Maduro’s attorney general. The firm is allowed to do only certain work for the Maduro government while it is under sanctions, but it agreed to give the government legal advice and represent it “before U.S. courts and administrative agencies,” according to a copy of the contract filed with the Justice Department. The contract ran through May 10 and was worth $12.5 million.

The firm declined to comment on why it dropped its client. The decision was first reported by The Associated Press.

“I’m glad they made the right decision to drop the Maduro Regime as a client and return the money,” Scott said in a statement. “It’s unfortunate they made the decision to give this murderous dictator legitimacy in the first place.”

Scott had pledged to refuse to meet with lobbyists from the firm — which lobbied the Senate on behalf of more than 40 clients in the most recent quarter, according to disclosure filings — as long as it was working for the Maduro government.

Foley & Lardner had also hired Sonoran Policy Group, a firm that has advised New Zealand and other foreign governments on how to deal with the Trump administration, to advise the firm “on the optimal strategic steps to take in relation to the U.S. governmental authorities currently adverse to” Maduro’s government, according to a copy of the contract between the firms. The firm had agreed to pay SPG $2 million for the work.

Robert Stryk, who runs SPG, has in the past defended his firm’s work for clients with tarnished human rights records, including the governments of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia.

“These are the places that need us the most,” Stryk told POLITICO in 2018. “New Zealand doesn’t need us. They need us.”

The Maduro government was only the most recent of the competing forces in Venezuela to turn to law firms or lobbyists for help in Washington.

Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer and the BGR Group both represent the government of Juan Guaidó, the Venezuelan opposition leader whom the Trump administration and dozens of other foreign governments have backed. Lee Buchheit, a former Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton partner, is advising Guaidó’s government on sovereign debt issues.

And a Venezuelan political party hired Ari Ben-Menashe, a Canadian lobbyist based in Montreal, last year to help convince the Trump administration to support Henri Falcón’s claim to the country’s presidency. Falcón, a former state governor, lost to Maduro in Venezuela’s widely criticized 2018 elections.