Monday, November 3, 2014

Lobbying by Mir Quasem Ali, the New Age expose

This page should be read in conjunction with this one.

Here are the two articles published by New Age back in October 2011 on lobbying by Mir Quassem Ali (sentenced to death yesterday for two 1971 offences) and his brother in the United States
Jamaat leader hires US firm to lobbywar crimes trial (29 Oct, 2011)

David Bergman
A senior Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami leader, Mir Quasem Ali, along with his US-based brother Mir Masum Ali, in the past year spent $310,000 (Tk 24 million) hiring one of the top United States lobbying firms to try and influence the country’s politicians and government officials on the ‘Bangladeshi War Crimes Tribunal’ and issues relating to the ‘political opposition,’ according to documents lodged with the US congress.
In March 2010, the Awami League government set up the International Crimes Tribunal to prosecute people alleged to have committed war crimes during the 1971 war of independence.
Since its establishment, the tribunal has detained seven men, five of whom are leaders of the Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami.
Quasem Ali, a successful businessman, is a member of both Jamaat’s 15-member central executive committee and its working committee.

The head of the ICT’s investigation agency has previously confirmed to journalists that the agency is conducting inquiries into whether Quasem Ali committed crimes during the 1971 war of independence. It is understood that in 1971 he was president of the Jamaat’s Chittagong unit student wing.
His younger brother Masum Ali, who lives in New York and is understood to be a US citizen, is named as the project director of media and publications on the website of the Muslim Ummah of North America, an organisation which attracts US-based supporters of the Bangladesh Jamaat.
Cassidy and Associates, which in 2010 was ranked as the sixth largest lobbying firm in the United States, is required by the Lobbying Disclosure Act 1995 to file with the US senate a registration form when any client starts using its services.
For as long as the arrangement continues, the firm must also file quarterly reports setting out the fees it receives from the client and the individual lobbyists within the company who undertook the work.
It is these publicly available documents which New Age has obtained in relation to the two brothers.
Abdur Razzaq, a Jamaat leader and head of the legal team defending his party colleagues accused of war crimes, declined to comment on whether the lobbying was undertaken on behalf of the political party. The forms do not mention Jamaat’s name.
Both Mir Quasem Ali and Cassidy and Associates failed to respond to a series of questions e-mailed to them.
It is not unlawful for a Bangladesh citizen or an organisation to hire a lobbying firm; documents filed with the US congress by lobbyists show that in 2001 and 2002, the Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority spent $430,000 (Tk 32.6 million) on hiring US lobbyists and between 2001 and 2009, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters’ Association spent over $530,000 (Tk 40.2 million) on lobbyists.
The United States has become an important battleground for those supporting and those opposing the International Crimes Tribunal.
Whilst the Bangladesh government is seeking to get the US government’s stamp of approval for the tribunal, the Jamaat-e-Islami wants the US congress and government to take a critical position in light of what they argue are violations of due process.
The effectiveness of Cassidy and Associate’s lobbying may in part be gauged if Stephen Rapp, the US ambassador for war crimes-at-large, comes for his third visit to Bangladesh, expected to take place in November. He has previously said that the US government might provide assistance to the tribunal depending on how he and the congress viewed the fairness of the trial process.
The documents, obtained by New Age directly from the US senate database, show that on November 24, 2010, Cassidy and Associates filed a lobbying registration form for a ‘client’ named as ‘Mir Quasem Ali’ and an address which matches the Jamaat’s leader current address at Mirpur in Dhaka.
The registration form describes the client’s business as ‘Television programme production and broadcast.’ Quasem Ali is a major shareholder of the Diganta Media Corporation which owns Diganta Television and the newspaper Naya Diganta.
The document describes the ‘specific lobbying issue’ for which the client has sought services from Cassidy and Associates as ‘Bangladeshi war crimes tribunal and political opposition matters.’
Nearly two months later, on January 13, 2011, the company filed a ‘lobbying report’ which stated that Quasem Ali would be required to pay ‘$80,000’ (Tk 6 million) for work done by the company in the final three months of 2010.
The figures are supposed to be a ‘good faith estimate’ by the company ‘rounded to the nearest $10,000.’
The forms disclose that the lobbying company put together a four-member lobbying team to lobby the ‘US house of representatives, the US senate and the state department.’
The team included the company’s founder and executive chairman, Gerald SJ Cassidy, one of its senior vice-presidents Mark Clack, who had previously worked as a staff member of the house of representative international relations committee, and also Elizabeth Tregaskis, the company’s ‘international specialist.’
Gerald Cassidy is one of the most prominent and respected lobbyists in Washington.
In a subsequent ‘lobbying report’ relating to work undertaken in the first three months of 2011, the lobbying company estimates that it would receive a further fee from Quasem Ali of $100,000 (Tk 7.9 million)
The form, this time stated that the company’s lobby was solely focused on the ‘Bangladeshi war crimes tribunal’ and not on opposition party matters.
This fee paid by Quasem Ali in the first quarter of 2011 was amongst the largest quarterly fees incurred by any of Cassidy’s clients in 2011 — with only about one dozen out of 140 clients paying more.
The filed documents, publicly available through an online US congress database, shows that Quasem Ali did not pay for any further lobbying work but that less than a month after he terminated his contract with the company, his brother, Masum Ali then became a client of Cassidy’s seeking lobbying around exactly the same subject areas.
In the next six months, the lobbying disclosure forms, seen by New Age, show that the fees paid by Masum Ali totalled $130,000 (Tk 9.9 million) — divided into $50,000 for the work undertaken between April and June 2011 and $80,000 for lobbying between July and September.
Masum Ali is described, like his brother, as involved in television production which may refer to his role in establishing Diganta Television in the United States. The forms show that a similar team of lobbyists worked for Masum Ali, though Gerald SJ Cassidy was replaced with the company’s number two executive, Gregg Hartly.
It appears that the arrangement between Masum Ali and the lobbying company is ongoing as it has not yet filed a ‘termination’ form.
According to the US congress database, the two men appear to be the only individual clients of Cassidy and Associates in 2011. All their other clients were companies or organisations.
Other Bangladesh newspapers have suggested that Quasem Ali has paid $25 million to lobbyists but this figure is not supported by the documents disclosed to the US senate by Cassidy and Associates.
Criticisms of the tribunal have not just been made by the Jamaat-e-Islami. Independent human rights organisations including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have raised concerns about inadequacies in the International Crimes (Tribunal) Act 1973 and the tribunal’s rules of procedure, and they may themselves be involved in lobbying the US government on the tribunal.
The US Ambassador for War Crimes, in a letter to government ministers earlier this year, also set out a series of changes that should be made to the law but many of these have not yet been made.
US lobbying firm under spotlightJamaat leader contract (3 Nov 2011)

David Bergman
A major US lobbying company may have broken US criminal law by failing to register itself as a foreign agent of a political party when it acted as a lobbyist for Mir Quasem Ali, a leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami in Bangladesh.
In a five-month period between November 2010 and March 2011, as previously revealed by New Age, the company used four lobbyists, including the firm’s founder and chief executive Gerald SJ Cassidy, to lobby on behalf of the Jamaat’s central executive committee leader on the issue of the ‘Bangladesh War Crimes Tribunal and political opposition matters.’
The contract started in November 2010, three months after four of the party’s most senior leaders, including Matiur Rahman Nizami, were arrested in Bangladesh by the International Crimes Tribunal on suspicion of committing international crimes during the 1971 war of independence.
Subsequently, one other leader, Delwar Hossain Sayedee, was arrested on similar suspicions and his trial is due to start later this month. The initial four accused men are due to be formally charged next month.
The Foreign Agent Registration Act 1938 requires that any lobbying firm acting on behalf of a foreign political party must register itself with the US Department of Justice within 10 days of agreeing to become ‘an agent’ of the political party and before performing any duties on its behalf.
‘Wilful’ violation of the law can result in a maximum fine of $10,000 or a sentence of up to two years’ imprisonment.
Tom Alexander, Cassidy and Associate’s director of corporate communications, however, told New Age that it did not consider it necessary to register under the act. ‘Cassidy & Associates has always maintained a rigorous internal process that includes a thorough review by legal counsel to ensure we follow every law and regulation when it comes to all of our work on our clients’ behalf. You would be greatly mistaken to suggest otherwise,’ he stated.
The details of the $180,000 (Tk 13.9 million) contractual arrangements between Mir Quasem Ali and Cassidy and Associates, which in 2010 was the sixth largest US lobbying firm, were disclosed in forms filed by the company to comply with the Lobbying Disclosure Act 1995.
However, it is the company’s failure to register itself under the Foreign Agent Registration Act 1938 for its dealings with Mir Quasem Ali which is now under question.
Registration would have required Cassidy and Associates to make public much more detailed information about its lobbying than it is required to do under the Lobbying Disclosure Act 1995, including the name of every person it lobbied in the executive and legislative branches of the government, the dates of all the contacts and a summary of the specific matters discussed whilst working on behalf of Quasem Ali.
The company would also have been required to disclose any other efforts it was making to influence the US public at large in favour of its client and to make it clear on any document it distributed that it was acting as a foreign agent.
‘The question is whether Mir Quasem Ali sought the lobbying assistance on behalf of the Jamaat-e-Islami, or whether he sought it in an individual capacity,’ lawyer Scott Thomas, head of the political law practice at the US law firm Dickenson Shapiro, told New Age.
‘If Quasem Ali was in effect acting for the political party, then Cassidy and Associates should have registered itself under the Foreign Agent Registration Act,’ he added.
The Department of Justice’s own guide to the act states that a lobbying company will be considered to be an agent of a foreign political party if it acts ‘at the order, request, or under the direction or control’ of the political party or ‘of a person any of whose activities are directly or indirectly supervised, directed, controlled, financed, or subsidized in whole or in major part’ by the party.
In July this year, the Department of Justice charged two individuals, Syed Ghulam Nabi Faiz and Zaheer Ahmad, with violating the 1938 law by failing to register their political and public relations activities on behalf of the Pakistani government.
The FARA registration unit of the counterespionage section in the National Security Division of the Department of Justice is responsible for the act’s enforcement.
‘The enforcement bodies would have to look at all the circumstances to see whether the company has breached the law or not. What were the terms of the contract? Did Cassidy and Associates, when it lobbied, continually raise issues about Jamaat-e-Islami? For whom was the lobbying useful? These are the kinds of questions that would need to be asked,’ the lawyer and former chairman of the Federal Election Commission told New Age.
He said that it would not be plausible for Cassidy to argue that it was unaware that Mir Quasem Ali was a senior member of the Jamaat.
‘It would be impossible to imagine that a firm like Cassidy did not know who he was,’ he said.
‘Cassidy and Associates would have to show that it is simply a coincidence that Quasem Ali happens to be a political leader of the party, and that he was raising issues about war crimes and political party matters simply as an individual unconnected to his role in the party,’ Thomas added.
Another lawyer who spoke to New Age suggested that arrangements with individuals from a foreign country inevitably raise suspicions.
‘A relevant question to be asked in situations like this is why a private person from another country would spend large sums of money to change the US government’s policy. This kind of scenario does raise suspicions,’ said Dan Pickard, a partner of a large Washington-based law firm, Wiley Rein LLP, who advises clients on compliance with FARA.
‘It would be easier for an individual person who is a member of a foreign political party to argue that any contract he may have with a lobbying firm is of a personal nature and has nothing to do with the political party if the firm was lobbying on behalf of the clients own business interests. Then the politician can perhaps argue that he or she is getting lobbying not to support the political party but his personal commercial interests,’ he added.
According to the database run by the US groups Pro Publica and the Sunlight Foundation, Cassidy and Associates has in the past registered itself as a foreign agent when it worked for the embassy of Pakistan, the Kurdistan regional government and the Republic of Equatorial Guinea.
Similar questions may also be raised about the failure of Cassidy and Associates to register its lobbying on behalf of Mir Masum Ali, the brother of Quasem Ali, under the 1938 Act.
Less than a month after Quasem Ali had terminated his contract with the company at the end of March 2011, Masum Ali made a similar arrangement where the lobby firm was also required to work on exactly the same issues — ‘Bangladesh War Crimes Tribunal and political opposition matters.’
So far Mir Masum Ali, who is Mir Quasem Ali’s younger brother, has incurred $130,000 (Tk 9.9 million) in fees, with the company allocating to him a very similar team of lobbyists who had previously worked for his brother.
‘What is important ultimately is not whose name is on a contract,’ said the Washington lawyer, Dan Pickard. ‘The question for the Department of Justice is whether the foreign party is directly or indirectly calling the shots. Is the person who signed the contract effectively getting his marching orders from the political party in another country?’
Scott Thomas does, however, raise a matter of caution. ‘It is more difficult when you are dealing with individuals or organisations, living or resident in the United States, who campaign for matters to do with their original home country,’ he said. ‘There is legitimate work that such people do which does not raise issues about FARA. It depends a lot on where the money is coming from and who is directing the lobbying.’
New Age contacted Mir Quasem Ali to ask him whether he was seeking lobbying advice on behalf of the Jamaat-e-Islami but received no response.
When asked by New Age about whether the company should have registered under the Foreign Agent Registration Act in relation to its dealings with both the two brothers, Tom Alexander, director of corporate communications of Cassidy & Associates, gave the following statement.
‘Cassidy & Associates follows a strict corporate policy not to discuss our work for clients with media, however, in this case your readers deserve the facts, not reported innuendo or arm chair quarterbacking from sources not directly involved in this matter.
‘Our careful decision to file under the Lobbying Disclosure Act is indeed the appropriate step as our client of record is a resident of the United States, not a political party, and our scope of work relates to US policy interests and the protection of an individual’s human rights in an emerging democracy.’
When New Age suggested to him that this statement does not appear to respond to question about the company’s arrangement with Mir Quasem Ali, who is not a resident of the United States and is a leader of a foreign political party, Alexander said that, ‘Our [Lobbying Disclosure Act] filings clearly state client of record and you have our statement.’

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