By DANA LIEBELSON
The Special Inspectors General for Iraq and Afghanistan are leaving no stone unturned as the U.S. undertakes its reconstruction efforts—and they’re stamping out more than a few cockroaches. As the U.S. pulls its troops out of these warzones, the number of people prosecuted for fraud and bribery continues to rise, according to two new IG reports released on Sunday.
The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction’s (SIGAR) quarterly report provides an update on the status of reconstruction programs since the last report in July, 2011. Of SIGAR’s 111 total ongoing investigations, about 61 percent involve contract fraud and 27 percent involve corruption and bribery. According to the new report, SIGAR’s investigations during this quarter led to two guilty pleas and five indictments of individuals charged with bribery in reconstruction contracts. In addressing contractor accountability, SIGAR made 18 suspension and debarment referrals.
Also during this quarter, a SIGAR investigation revealed the single largest bribery case since the decade-long war in Afghanistan began. In September, Sidharth Handa, a U.S. military reserve officer, was sentenced for soliciting more than $1.3 billion in bribes and conspiring to distribute heroin. Handa’s job was to assist in awarding U.S. funded reconstruction projects to local contractors, but he solicited bribes that amounted to about 10 percent of the contract cost.
The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction’s (SIGIR) quarterly report looks at action over the past year. In that period, SIGIR investigations resulted in the indictment of 21 people for aid-related offenses and recovered $83.4 million. In the last quarter alone, SIGIR made 4 suspensions and 11 proposals for debarment.
The report outlines many lurid examples of corruption in Iraq during the last quarter. A U.S. Marine Corps gunnery sergeant pled guilty to stealing $124,000 worth of equipment; a former U.S. Army lieutenant colonel was sentenced to prison for accepting illegal gratuities from contractors (and hiding them in his mail); and an associate of a U.S. Marine Corps contracting officer conspired to launder about $150,000 in bribes.
On a tangential note, although in these bribery cases it is U.S. officials receiving bribes, instead of foreign officials, this does make the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s campaign to undermine the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act—which for more than three decades has served as a deterrent to bribery—all the more chilling.
SIGIR and SIGAR should be applauded for their work in the last quarter, and should continue to strive to find and prosecute corruption in U.S. war zone reconstruction projects. Government agencies should also be encouraged to cooperate fully with these investigations (we’re looking at you, State Department.)
According to the now-dismantled Commission on Wartime Contracting, at least one out of every six dollars spent by U.S. taxpayers on contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade—more than $30 billion—has been lost due to waste and fraud.
Dana Liebelson is the POGO Beth Daley Impact Fellow
Image from Images_of_Money on Flickr