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Sri Lanka paid $6.5 million to Washington lobby firms in 2014

Updated 1000 GMT

Sri Lanka paid an estimated US $6.5 million to a major fundraiser to the Obama campaign in order to lobby US officials and is yet to finish making payments, reports Foreign Policy.

According to the paper’s investigation, the Sri Lankan government over a five month period in 2014 paid $6.5 million to Imaad Zuberi, a venture capitalist whp was one of the biggest contributors to Obama’s re-election campaign.

A document obtained by Foreign Policy found that a lobby firm owned by Mr Zuberi was paid $2 million by the Sri Lankan government for consulting services which included influencing the US government.

The transactions have come under scrutiny after it was found that payments to Mr Zuberi were not disclosed to the US Justice Department as required under federal law. The Foreign Agents Registration Act of FARA states that paid representatives of foreign governments must disclose those relationships to the Justice Department and carries a punishment of up to 5 years in prison.

Through Mr Zuberi, Sri Lanka “made hundreds of contacts with government officials, think tanks, and journalists, and arranged meetings on Capitol Hill”. One such meeting was on July 14 2014, when former Sri Lankan MP Vass Gunawardena and 14 other Sri Lankan officials, spent thousands of dollars on food and drinks for members of Congress in Washington DC.

Mr Zuberi however denied he worked for individuals, telling FP, “Our work was for the government of Sri Lanka… not Mr Vass Gunawardena as a person”.

He also rejected allegations of corruption within the then Sri Lankan government, led by Mahinda Rajapaksa. “Perhaps we were lucky that we didn’t encounter corruption,” said Mr Zuberi. “But we only explored opportunities and didn’t really make any investment.”

“[W]e are not a lobbying firm, law firm, nor PR firm, therefore we do not engage in these activities because these are not our core competencies,” insisted Mr Zuberi. “I registered not as a lobbyist but as a consultant because that was the extent of my involvement.”

He went on to add that the project eventually wound down and that the Sri Lankan government is still in arrears with his company.

“When we realized we weren’t going to make any major impact we wound down and [the government of Sri Lanka] stopped paying for the project,” said Mr Zuberi, adding that Sri Lanka “did not keep their payment commitment. There are still outstanding invoices to be paid.”

See related articles:

Sri Lanka hires another American lobbying firm (24 Oct 2014)

US lobby firm needed to combat ‘Tamil diaspora and international media’ says Central Bank (25 Aug 2014)

Sri Lanka signs deal with US lobbying firm (18 Aug 2014)

Central Bank of Sri Lanka hires US lobby firm (18 August 2014)

Govt spends over $100m on US lobby firms (28 July 2014)

SL spends over US $100,000 a month lobbying the US (26 January 2014)

SL Washington embassy hires firms to lobby US govt (15 April 2013)

British PR firm wrote Rajapaksa's UN speech (05 December 2011)


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