Tuesday, 27 September 2011

How to go to war and make money

Sidharth Handa (r) receives a Bronze Star in happier days
Case one: Last Friday Sidharth 'Tony' Handa, a former captain in the US Army Reserve, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for soliciting $1.3 million in bribes from contractors involved in US-funded reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan and participating in a conspiracy to traffic heroin. It is the largest Army-connected bribery prosecution relating to Afghanistan. Handa, of Charlotte, NC, was also ordered to pay $315,000 in restitution.
“Mr. Handa used his official position assisting the United States’ reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan to line his pockets,” said US Assistant Attorney General Lanny A Breuer. “He promised multi-million dollar contracts to Afghan businessmen in exchange for cash. He was so meticulous about collecting his bribes that he kept track of them on a spreadsheet. We will not tolerate this kind of fraud and abuse. Today’s sentence reflects the disgracefulness of Mr. Handa’s conduct.”
“From the day he stepped foot in Afghanistan, Mr. Handa negotiated a staggering amount of bribes from contractors in a blatant breach of the trust our military put in him. His actions brought shame to our mission, harmed our reconstruction efforts, and defrauded American taxpayers who funded the contracts he looted.”
Handa was stationed in Afghanistan only for the six months from March until November 2008 and served as the liaison to the local governor and engineers on the Kunar Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT). He helped award reconstruction project contracts to local contractors through what should have been a competitive bidding process. In fact, almost immediately on arrival in Afghanistan, he began to solicit bribes from contractors seeking large PRT construction projects.
With the help of an Afghan interpreter - who appears not to have been proscuted so far -  Handa asked for 10 percent of the overall contract value, though the actual bribe payment was negotiated based on the contractor’s ability to pay. The total value of bribes contractors agreed to pay amounted to $1,323,000, and Handa and the interpreter collected $315,000, which they split evenly.
After leaving Afghanistan Handa tried to collect over $1 million in bribes that contractors had pledged to pay. A cooperating witness (CW) offered to help Handa collect the money, and through 2010 and early 2011 Handa provided him with details of outstanding bribes. It was at this point that Handa said he knew people in the drug business and he and the CW developed plans to sell kilogram quantities of heroin to Handa’s drug contacts.
However, in April this year he was arrested after a sting operation at a northern Virginia hotel. He was carrying the bribe money, a loaded handgun and a spreadsheet detailing specific bribe amounts paid and outstanding.
Case two: A former member of the US Army employed by a private security firm was arrested at Miami International Airport last week on charges of bribery, fraud and theft of government funds, in connection with the award of a contract to provide services to a US government provincial reconstruction team in Farah, Afghanistan.
Raul Borcuta was arrested when he tried to enter the United States from Europe. Immediately, the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois unsealed a nine-count indictment charging Borcuta and his co-conspirators, Zachery Taylor and Jared Close, with mail fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy, bribery and theft of government funds.
According to the indictment, Borcuta, 32, defrauded the US government in connection with a contract to provide two up-armoured sport utility vehicles to be used by an Afghan official in the government of Farah Province, Afghanistan, who had received death threats from insurgent groups.
The indictment alleges that Borcuta bribed US Army contracting officials Taylor, 40, and Close, 40, with $10,000 each to award him the contract and to make full payment to Borcuta before the vehicles were delivered. Taylor and Close, formerly US Army staff sergeants assigned to the provincial reconstruction team in Farah, allegedly authorized a payment of approximately $200,000 in US government funds to Borcuta. Borcuta received the money even though he never delivered the vehicles required by the contract.
The case is similar to another case, in Iraq, that I reported on for The Guardian involving a company called Zeroline. In that case, too, the US Army paid millions of dollars in advance for armoured vehicles that were never delivered. Still no news on whether or not those involved will be prosecuted. We are waiting.

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