PR Firm Puts Pakistani Client on Hot Seat

     WASHINGTON (CN) – A consulting firm sued a Pakistani client and its U.S. branch, claiming they owe it more than $400,000 for its work assuaging concerns that their fertilizer may be used to “maim and kill” U.S. troops overseas.
     Levick Strategic Communications sued Fatima Group and Midwest Fertilizer Corporation, in Federal Court.
     Levick is a Washington, D.C.-based consulting and PR firm.
     Fatima Group is “one of the largest international conglomerates in Pakistan,” according to the complaint. It owns 48 percent of Indiana-based Midwest Fertilizer Corp.; both are Delaware corporations registered to the same address in that state, according to the complaint.
     Levick claims in the lawsuit that Fatima and Midwest Fertilizer hired it “to advise defendants on strategic communications related to concerns about defendants’ involvement in the manufacture of ingredients used to maim and kill U.S. and allied soldiers in Afghanistan. Defendants sought Levick’s assistance in demonstrating that an Indiana bond offering should be used to finance Midwest’s construction of a plant to manufacture fertilizer amidst the allegations raised by senior Defense Department officials about defendants’ actions in Pakistan. In January 2013, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence put the state’s support for the project on hold pending further review, thereby creating an even more immediate communications need.
     “Despite accepting the benefits of Levick’s strategic communications advice about how to address Indianans’ heartfelt concerns about whether their financing was being used to benefit those complicit with the maiming and killing of its sons and daughters, the defendants failed to pay Levick in breach of the agreement they executed,” the complaint states.
     Fatima Group makes fertilizers, textiles and other products. A consortium of international investors owns the other 52 percent of Midwest Fertilizer, according to the complaint, which cites media reports.
     Nitrogen-based fertilizers can and have been used to make bombs, such as the one Timothy McVeigh ignited in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168 people. McVeigh was executed in 2001.
     Nitrogen-based fertilizer exploded at a manufacturing plant in West, Texas in April this year, leveling part of the town and killing 15. A similar industrial accident in Texas City in 1947 killed nearly 600 people.
     Midwest Fertilizer was formed in September 2012 to build a nitrogen-based fertilizer plant in Indiana. Fatima and Midwest Fertilizer sought financing from the state.
     “This use of tax-exempt public financing in this matter became controversial because of concerns that defendants make products used by insurgents and terrorists in improvised explosive devices in order to kill and injure U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan, i.e., the ‘terrorism factor,’ the complaint states. “In January 2013, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence put the project on hold pending further review of the issues around the terrorism factor. Defendants’ success in going forward with the project depended on whether U.S. stakeholders, in particular the citizens of Posey County, Indiana, could get past the terrorism factor and develop the requisite trust in Midwest and the Fatima Group. Thus, support for the construction of the plant hinged on whether the public could become comfortable with entities equated with the terrorism factor receiving public funding in the U.S. at the same time as the Department of Defense continued to have questions of the defendants. Defendants sought professional strategic communication advice from Levick both to manage public scrutiny related to the plant construction and to educate the public on their efforts to make a less explosive product that would alleviate the safety concerns and save lives.”
     Levick handled the defendants’ public affairs and communication with the media, Washington policymakers and financial decision-makers, according to the complaint.
     After Indiana withdrew its support for the project in May, Fatima and Midwest Fertilizer sought other financing.
     Levick claims the defendants never asked it to stop working on the project.
     It claims Fatima and Midwest Fertilizer made an initial payment of $78,600, but failed to pay the balance of $406,737, though Levick complied with the agreement and protected them from public and media scrutiny.
     The complaint adds, pointedly: “The defendants’ willingness to breach their agreement with Levick does not bode well for whether or not it will honor its agreement with the citizens of Posey County, Indiana and its representations in response to the terrorism factor.”
     It seeks compensatory and punitive damages for breach of contract.
     Levick is represented by Sanford Saunders Jr. with Greenberg Traurig.

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