Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Iraq War -- A Perfect Arena For Fraud

Several federal agencies are investigating a widening network of criminal cases involving the purchase and delivery of billions of dollars of weapons, supplies and other matériel to Iraqi and American forces, according to American officials. The officials said it amounted to the largest ring of fraud and kickbacks uncovered in the conflict here.

The inquiry has already led to several indictments of Americans, with more expected, the officials said. One of the investigations involves a senior American officer who worked closely with Gen. David H. Petraeus in setting up the logistics operation to supply the Iraqi forces when General Petraeus was in charge of training and equipping those forces in 2004 and 2005, American officials said Monday.

There is no indication that investigators have uncovered any wrongdoing by General Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, who through a spokesman declined comment on any legal proceedings. ...

The inquiries are being pursued by the Army Criminal Investigation Command, the Department of Justice, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, among other agencies. ...

The investigation into contracts for matériel to Iraqi soldiers and police officers is part of an even larger series of criminal cases. As of Aug. 23, there were a total of 73 criminal investigations related to contract fraud in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan, Col. Dan Baggio, an Army spokesman said Monday. Twenty civilians and military personnel have been charged in federal court as a result of the inquiries, he said. The inquiries involve contracts valued at more than $5 billion, and Colonel Baggio said the charges so far involve more than $15 million in bribes.

Investigations span the gamut from low-level officials submitting false claims for amounts less than $2,500 to more serious cases involving, conspiracy, bribery, product substitution and bid-rigging or double-billing involving large dollar amounts or more senior contracting officials, Army criminal investigators said. The investigations involve contractors, government employees, local nationals and American military personnel. ...

In a sign of the seriousness of the scandal, the Defense Department Inspector General, Claude M. Kicklighter, will lead an 18-person team to Iraq early next month to investigate contracting practices, said Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary.

Mr. Morrell said Mr. Kicklighter, a retired three-star Army general, would stay in Iraq indefinitely to investigate contracting abuses, and was empowered to fix problems on the spot or take action if his team identified potential criminal activity.

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