Sri Lanka hires up in Washington amid war crimes probe

The government of Sri Lanka has hired its eighth Washington firm this year as it awaits the results of a United Nations human rights investigation into alleged war crimes.

Levick is subcontracting through Liberty International Group, a government affairs firm owned by former Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.), to represent the semi-autonomous central bank of Sri Lanka.

“Levick’s mission is to utilize communications supported advocacy to tell Sri Lanka’s amazing story of recovery after a decades long civil war against a brutal terrorist organization, as well as to assist the Central Bank in communicating opportunities for trade and investment between our two nations,” Mark Irion, president of Levick, said in a statement to The Hill. 

The work by Levick will include “outreach to US media, opinion leaders and possibly US officials concerning issues of importance to the client, including assisting in establishing additional relations between the Central Bank of Sri Lanka and the United States Government,” according to disclosure documents posted on Thursday.

Mack, who now also works at Levick, originally signed up the central bank as a client in August.

Contract documents say the representation is needed because “the current international media focus on Sri Lanka is unbalanced,” according to disclosures by Liberty International Group to the Justice Department under the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA). 

The contract with Liberty International Group — set to last from August 2014 to the end of next July — is worth $760,000. Levick is charging a monthly retainer of $60,000, according to the subcontract.

The Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka has hired six Washington firms since May, including R&R Partners, Madison Group and Beltway Government Strategies. 

The United Nations Human Rights Council voted in March to investigate the Sri Lankan government and the opposing rebel group, the Tamil Tigers, for allegations of committing war crimes during a civil war that ended in 2009.

Leaders in Sri Lanka had strongly opposed the U.N. resolution, saying that it was “politically motivated.” 

The United States had been a leading proponent of the resolutions, calling for accountability in the wake of the civil war that waged for nearly three decades, in which at least 100,000 people died and both sides are alleged to have committed atrocities. During the final months of the conflict, the government allegedly killed thousands of civilians — a charge it disputes.

“It is necessary to have a re-calibration of US policy, based on a wider and fairer information base, leading to a multi-dimensional and more balanced engagement with Sri Lanka,” according to FARA documents filed by Liberty International Group in August.

Sri Lanka’s central bank considers the media’s coverage of Sri Lanka “unfair, unwarranted, and overshadows the impressive post-war socio-economic achievements of Sri Lanka and also could undermine the long term US political geo-strategic and economic interests,” the disclosure says.

In addition to the main firms Sri Lanka has on retainer, Beltway Government Strategies has sub-contracts with three other firms: Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, Vigilant Worldwide Communications and Burson-Marsteller.

In disclosure forms, those firms said they would be reaching out “to members of Congress and State Department officials with the purpose of raising situational awareness of Sri Lanka and its strategic importance to the United States” and “[laying] the groundwork to promote Sri Lanka as a business and travel destination.”

The Embassy of Sri Lanka also signed with the Majority Group, which was formed by Rob Ellsworth and former Rep. Walt Minnick (D-Idaho), last year. 

The government of Sri Lanka had been previously represented by Patton Boggs, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, Qorvis Communications and others. Thompson Advisory Group had previously represented Sri Lanka’s central bank.