Ex-Clinton aide to lobby for oil-rich African country

Equatorial Guinea, the oil-rich African nation targeted for corruption by a Senate investigation earlier this year, has signed a former Clinton White House aide to a lobbying contract worth more than $2 million. 

Lanny Davis, a former special counsel to President Bill Clinton, will work to improve the country’s image by helping to implement a “comprehensive reform program,” according to documents filed with the Justice Department.

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Davis, a columnist for The Hill, signed the two-year joint contract with his old law firm, McDermott Will & Emery. Both were hired as “legal and technical advisers.”

Davis, who recently started his own lobbying and law firm, said Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo hired him to help his government reform itself. 

“The president said to me that he wanted his legacy to be change and reform,” Davis told The Hill. “I have been hired not because they are in great shape but because the president wants to turn the page.”

Obiang’s son was the subject of a probe released in February by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. The report found that the president’s son moved more than $110 million in suspect funds into the United States through lawyers, real estate agents and escrow accounts, using the money to buy a $30 million Malibu mansion and a $38.5 million Gulfstream jet, among other things. 

Equatorial Guinea also came up in a 2004 probe by the panel of Riggs Bank involving laundering of oil money. 

The small country on Africa’s west coast is blessed with vast oil resources and is key to U.S. interests in the region. In 2008, it exported 28.4 million barrels of crude oil to the United States, making it one of the biggest sellers of oil to the U.S.

It has a poor record on human rights; the State Department’s latest report faults it for restricting freedoms, torturing prisoners and offering a lackluster judicial process, among other charges. Obiang first seized power in 1979 via a military coup. 

Davis met Obiang in December 2009 in New York, and insists he was impressed by the president’s commitment to reform.

“My mission is to help the government on a series of reform measures that would facilitate good relations with the United States, the human-rights community and the world community looking to invest in the country,” said Davis. 

He’ll be working with longtime colleague Eileen O’Connor, the former CNN reporter, and Michael Socarras, who both work at McDermott. 

 As part of a reform program outlined in documents included with the firm’s contract, Davis will help Equatorial Guinea work with think tanks and non-governmental organizations, such as the Carter Center, the International Center for Journalists, the American Bar Association and others, to improve the country’s human-rights record. 

One of Davis’s first goals is to help the country enter the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, which pushes foreign leaders to publicly disclose company payments and government profits from sales of their countries’ natural resources. The international organization ended Equatorial Guinea’s candidacy last month after it failed to meet a key deadline. 

Copied onto the memorandum of understanding between Obiang and Davis is Stephen Roth of Roth Construction Inc. Roth’s company, based in Victoria, Texas, is expected to finish building a presidential library as well as a humanitarian and peace institute in Equatorial Guinea for Obiang in late 2011.

Roth called Davis in October 2009 and helped set up a meeting between the attorney and the African president, who wanted help finding an expert to work with in reaching out to the U.S. The construction executive also contracted Davis in order to pay for his travel to Equatorial Guinea in March this year. 

“It is no secret that they don’t have the best reputation,” Roth said. “But having been on the ground in their country, seeing all the infrastructure being developed there, it just didn’t add up to me that they were getting a fair shake from the press and in their political responses from the United States.

“I think [the Equatorial Guineans] have tremendous potential and I think it should be easier for all to work over there. The modernization of the country still has a long way to go,” Roth said. 

Equatorial Guinea has had Washington heavyweight Cassidy & Associates lobbying on its behalf since 2004. Cassidy subcontracted public-relations work to Qorvis Communications in August 2009. 

Cassidy has earned more than $9.1 million from its agreement with the African country so far, while Qorvis has taken in $45,000, according to Justice records.