Americas, Elections, Top Stories

Puerto Rico ex-governor lobbies for Dominican presidential candidate accused of graft

The presidential candidate for the Dominican Republic’s ruling party has retained Washington law firm Steptoe and Johnson to help schedule meetings and “build relationships” with key audiences.

The pro-bono agreement was reached on June 1 with Dominican Liberation Party candidate Gonzalo Castillo, according to a new lobbying filing with the US Department of Justice. The filing is signed by former Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuno, a Steptoe and Johnson partner who has registered as a foreign agent on the account along with fellow partner Douglas Kantor. Fortuno did not respond to a request for comment.

Castillo faces candidate Luis Abinader of the opposition Modern Revolutionary Party on July 5 in a tight race marked by allegations of corruption against Castillo harking back to his time as public works minister from 2012 to 2019. Spring polling had shown Abinader in the lead before the election initially scheduled for May 17 was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic. A runoff will be held on July 26 if no candidate wins more than 50% of the vote.

Opposition lawmakers have demanded that the Prosecutor’s Office investigate allegations that Castillo helped steer overvalued contracts to Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht during his time as minister. Last year, a Dominican judge ordered that six people including a former Senate president and Castillo’s predecessor as public works minister stand trial over accusations they received millions of dollars in bribes in exchange for construction contracts.

The US government has taken note of the corruption allegations. In 2018, the Treasury Department sanctioned Dominican senator Felix Bautista, a businessman close to former president Leonel Fernandez, for corruption. Fernandez lost the ruling party’s primary to Castillo last year and started his own party.

Fortuno represented Puerto Rico from 2005 to 2008 in the US House of Representatives as a Republican, before serving as governor of Puerto Rico from 2009 to 2012. According to his Steptoe and Johnson biography, he “represents investment funds and Fortune 500 companies in regulatory, public policy, public-private partnership (P3) and project finance, finance, and other corporate matters in the United States and throughout Latin America.”