The government of Ecuador has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to an American public relations firm run by a former high-level government official, public records show.
Expenditure reports posted on the website of Ecuador’s attorney general’s office show it has paid at least $867,000 to Miren LLC, a firm based in the Suwanee suburb of Atlanta.
Miren is owned by Tomas Peribonio, Ecuador’s former Minister of Commerce and Industry. According to a U.S. public relations consultant with whom he has worked, Peribonio served as an adviser to the attorney general, Diego Garcia, while being paid for PR services in the United States.
The attorney general’s expenditure reports say the payments were for "for media services, public relations, and imaging of [the Attorney General] and the Republic of Ecuador in major U.S. cities."
Neither Peribonio nor the attorney general returned requests for comment on this story.
In general, individuals and companies that conduct public relations on U.S. soil on behalf of foreign governments are required to inform DOJ of that fact.
Since January 2012, Miren has been paid in monthly installments ranging from $12,000 to $30,000. The firm received at least $867,000 from the attorney general’s office through the end of 2014, expense reports show.
A Justice Department spokesman confirmed that neither Miren nor Peribonio is or ever has been registered as an agent of a foreign government.
Peribonio’s name showed up on disclosure documents in November, but those documents didn’t detail his work. Instead, they disclosed work by "communications consultant" Felipe Benitez promoting Garcia’s book in the United States.
Peribonio signed the documents on Garcia’s behalf. Benitez sent a contract detailing his work to his Suwanee address. A line at the bottom beckoned Peribonio’s signature.
Benitez said in an email that Peribonio was his point of contact throughout his work for the attorney general. "I believe he is an adviser to the AG," Benitez said.
Benitez filed his disclosures with DOJ on Oct. 22, 2014. Peribonio received payments of $30,000 on Oct. 6 and Nov. 12. The attorney general, through Peribonio, paid Benitez $14,500 for his work, just 1.6 percent of known transfers from the attorney general’s office to Miren.
"Approximately 80% of the budget will be allocated to preparing and disseminating informational materials," Benitez wrote in his registration documents. Another PR agent, Blair Fitzgibbon, would "participate in the preparation or dissemination of such informational materials," he said.
Fitzgibbon is the president of Sound Speed Media. Until February 2014, he was a senior vice president at Fitzgibbon Media, a firm founded by his brother Trevor. That firm worked closely with MCSquared to file registration paperwork after the Washington Free Beacon reported that it was conducting PR on Ecuador’s behalf without notifying DOJ.
The Ecuadorian government paid MCSquared nearly $2 million for U.S. public relations efforts attacking oil giant Chevron for resisting efforts to extract money for environmental damage in Ecuador.
Chevron recently won a federal court case determining that plaintiffs who sued the company in Ecuador in the 1990s obtained an eventual multi-billion-dollar judgment through a criminal racketeering scheme.
MCSquared conducted "ad placement to inform the U.S. public of Chevron's responsibilities," according to its tardy disclosures.