Pillsbury firm ends decade-long work for Saudi Arabia on nuclear energy

A general view of Riyadh city, Saudi Arabia, February 20, 2022. REUTERS/Mohammed Benmansour

(Reuters) - Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman has ended its long-running U.S. work for Saudi Arabia related to nuclear energy, the law firm said in a filing this week with the U.S. Justice Department.

The firm's filing did not provide a reason for the termination. Pillsbury lawyers involved in the engagement and a firm spokesperson did not immediately respond to Reuters' requests for comment.

Pillsbury first registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act in 2011 to advise on nuclear energy issues for two Saudi government entities. The most recent contract, active from 2019 until the firm's Aug. 29 termination filing, said the firm would advise the Ministry of Energy, Industry, and Mineral Resources and the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy on "a potential bilateral agreement on cooperation with the United States concerning peaceful uses of nuclear energy" and related legal issues.

No such deal has publicly emerged. Reuters reported in 2019 that the Trump administration secretly allowed several companies to sell nuclear power technology and assistance to Saudi Arabia.

The firm's most recent contract says Pillsbury lawyers would start out billing a blended rate of $890 an hour for the work.

Another U.S. law firm, King & Spalding, is still actively registered to advise the Saudi entities on cooperating with U.S. officials on nuclear energy, as is former Saudi Aramco general counsel David Kultgen. A King & Spalding spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Kultgen could not be immediately reached for comment.

Some U.S. law firms cut ties with Saudi Arabia following the 2018 killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. A CIA assessment in 2018 found Saudi Arabia responsible for the killing of Khashoggi, a columnist for the Washington Post, and the Biden administration said in an intelligence assessment last year that Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman directed the operation. Saudi officials have denied those findings.

Law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher terminated its work for the Saudi embassy after the killing, less than two months after the firm signed a $250,000 contract to oppose legislation that would open up Saudi Arabia to antitrust lawsuits over oil conservation. A firm spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment.

Squire Patton Boggs last year terminated its registration to lobby for the Center for Studies and Media Affairs at the Royal Saudi Court. Saudi officials associated with the center were involved in Khashoggi's killing, according to the CIA report. A firm spokesperson said at the time of the termination that lobbyists there had not worked for the center in over four years.

Two other major law firms, Hogan Lovells and Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, filed papers earlier this year to extend their work for Saudi Arabia. Spokespeople for those firms did not immediately have comment.

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Jacqueline Thomsen, based in Washington, D.C., covers legal news related to policy, the courts and the legal profession. Follow her on Twitter at @jacq_thomsen and email her at jacqueline.thomsen@thomsonreuters.com.