Nigel Hughes says will cut ties with Law Firm if elected to office; VP Jagdeo says position immoral, obscene

The content originally appeared on: INews Guyana
Vice President Dr Bharrat Jagdeo – AFC Leader Nigel Hughes

Newly elected Leader of the Alliance For Change (AFC), Attorney Nigel Hughes, has dismissed mounting concerns over the conflict of interests between his political and professional careers, denying having ever participated in the negotiations between ExxonMobil and the then Guyana Government on the lopsided 2016 oil contract.

The Production Sharing Agreement (PSA) for the Stabroek Block was negotiated and signed under the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Government – a process led by then Natural Resources Minister, Raphael Trotman, who was also leader of the AFC at the time.

There were claims of conflict of interests between Trotman and Hughes, who was also the AFC Chairman at that time, while his law firm – Hughes, Fields & Stoby – represented ExxonMobil and its co-ventures during those negotiations.

During a press conference on Friday – his first since being elected to the helm of the AFC last weekend, Hughes denied that there were any conflicts since he never directly participated in the negotiation process

“I have never advised, participated or assisted Exxon in any negotiations with the Government of Guyana at any stage. During the coalition government, I did not act for or assist the Government of Guyana or Exxon. I have never held any governmental office nor have I ever advised the Government of Guyana,” the embattled lawyer stated.

In fact, he pointed out that the law firm, of which he is currently a partner, had started working with oil and gas companies since before the 1990s under previous management. This work, he added, continued in the early 2000s by himself and Andrew Pollard, S.C. According to Hughes, it was Senior Counsel Pollard who had “exclusively managed” Exxon during its negotiations with the then coalition government.

Pointing to precedence in the Caribbean and even in Guyana, the controversial Attorney-at-Law went on to declare that only “…If and when elected to office, I will relinquish all ties with the Firm of Hughes, Fields and Stoby.”

In recent weeks, there have been concerns expressed, including by political commentators from both the opposition and government sides, about Hughes’ conflict of interest with his political and professional careers.

This was further compounded when he recently told local news agency, Demerara Waves Online, that he would continue to defend his client’s interest, that is, ExxonMobil, even against Guyana.

“Immoral and obscene”

But General Secretary of the ruling People’s Progressive Party (PPP), Dr Bharrat Jagdeo, has called out Hughes over his “immoral and obscene” position.

“This reveals the working of [Nigel Hughes’] mind that national interest will come second to him in any situation where his money is affected,” Jagdeo said during a live broadcast on Friday evening.

To separate himself from any potential conflict, Hughes said all oil and gas-related issues within the AFC would be handled by the party’s new Chairman, David Patterson, and former Head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Vicent Adams, who will establish an advisory committee and retain industry experts to craft the party’s policies on the oil and gas sector. Even as leader, the embattled lawyer said he would have no input or involvement with the AFC Oil and Gas Committee.

“In my capacity as Leader of the AFC, I am not in a position to influence government policy particularly as it relates to Exxon,” Hughes contended.

But Jagdeo, who is also the Vice President in the current PPP/C Administration, has counter argued that Hughes is in fact in a position currently to influence the Guyana Government’s policy when it comes to the petroleum sector through the National Assembly.

“His party is represented in the National Assembly… his MPs (Members of Parliament) are there. He can influence them now, as Leader of the party, to vote on a legislation in favour of his clients. So, he’s in a conflict-of-interest position there,” the VP noted.

He went onto remind of a statement made by Hughes in the past that the oil companies can fund political parties and take over the country.

“So, if he remains the lawyer for this company and the company pays him for legal services then what is there to say that this can’t be a conduit for political contributions to his party. They can easily inflate the legal bill to give him funding for this political party,” the Vice President pointed out.

Jagdeo went on to dismiss Hughes’ claim that the ExxonMobil account his being handled by his partner in the law firm, saying that the AFC Leader, as co-owner, still benefits financially from the oil company.

“These are all issues we need to consider,” VP Jagdeo posited.


Only Thursday, Jagdeo hinted that there could be an investigation into Hughes’ involvement in the negotiations of the 2016 oil contract, citing some “telling” details that are contained in several reports done back then that contradict his claim that he had already resigned from the AFC when his law firm was representing the oil company.

A report done by United Kingdom-based global law firm, Clyde & Co., revealed that Hughes resigned as AFC Chairman on April 11, 2016 – just three days before the concluding stages of the contract negotiations.

According to the report that was commissioned by the coalition government to defend the oil contract it signed with Exxon – a deal many industry experts said has left Guyana short-changed with sweeping benefits going to the US oil major and its partners, those negotiations began almost a year earlier in May 2015 while Hughes was still serving at the helm of the AFC.

In that report, it was noted that Exxon, through its local affiliate – Esso Exploration and Production Guyana Limited (EEPGL) – sent a proposed Escrow Process Flow Chart on May 19, 2015, setting out various timelines for the execution of a PSA which eventually led to the 2016 agreement.

Jagdeo also highlighted that Hughes had “lied” to international agency, Global Witness, that his tenure as AFC Chairman did not overlap with Trotman’s tenure as minister.

Moreover, the vice president went on to say on Friday evening that Government is also waiting to hear from the United States oil company on this matter. “It could get very, very uncomfortable for a large number of people,” Jagdeo stated.

In addition to this conflict-of-interest issue, when the no-confidence motion was passed in the National Assembly against the David Granger-led Coalition Administration back in December 2018, Hughes had also sparked a contentious debate that was exacerbated by legal and procedural challenges that had significantly delayed the country’s electoral process. Central to this debate was Hughes’ argument that, mathematically, one-half of the House when divided stands at 32.5 members.

“There is no such thing as a half member, so half of the House is 33 members…this is because you have to round up to identify half of the House,” he had said, mere days after the no-confidence motion was passed. Therefore, he posited that 34 is the majority of the 65-member House rather than 33.

The aftermath of the motion as a result of this argument had been marked by legal challenges, appeals, and judicial decisions that extended beyond the constitutionally mandated three-month deadline. In June 2019, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) handed down its decision that 33, not 34, was the majority of the 65-member House.