Saudis Claim Diplomatic Privilege for PR Firm's Work
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Saudis Claim Diplomatic Privilege for PR Firm's Work

The chairman of the House government reform committee has subpoenaed records from public relations firm Qorvis Communications and its parent company law firm Patton Boggs as part of the committee’s investigation into international child custody disputes.

Paul Holmes

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The chairman of the House government reform committee has subpoenaed records from public relations firm Qorvis Communications and its parent company law firm Patton Boggs as part of the committee’s investigation into international child custody disputes involving Saudi Arabia, a client of both firms.

But Rep. Dan Burton, (R-Ind.), has accused the Saudi government of invoking diplomatic privilege after it ordered its Washington representatives not to comply with congressional subpoenas for documents.

In recent hearings, half a dozen families in custody disputes testified their children were abducted by their Saudi fathers and taken to Saudi Arabia. They said the Saudi government was doing nothing to assist the American parents.

“We directed our representatives not to produce the contents of any files relating to the work performed on behalf of the embassy,” Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar wrote in a letter than Burton released last week. “No nation, including the United States, can effectively pursue its diplomatic mission in foreign countries without freedom to communicate confidentially with lawyers and consultants.”

The Vienna Convention extends protections to diplomats of a foreign government, “but it has no application to American citizens who choose to sell their services as public relations/lobbying mouthpieces for foreign interests,” said Burton.

Patton Boggs managing partner Stuart Pape said the firm has “no choice” but to refuse to comply with the committee’s subpoenas.

Qorvis has been working with the Saudi government since early this year, on a contract believed to be worth $200,000 a month. The majority of its work has centered on portraying the Middle Eastern country as a staunch ally of the U.S. in the war on terrorism. That work has been controversial, in part because the majority of the September 11 terrorists were Saudi nationals and in part because Saudi Arabia is not a democracy, and has human rights problems of its own, particularly in terms of its treatment of women.

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