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Iraqi general helped cheat US government, contractors involved in scheme say

An almost $73 million project to build an Afghan National Army garrison in Kunduz province was plagued by cost overruns and delays. Auditors found that the project, overseen by DynCorp International LLC, will cost more than $19 million more to fix the various construction problems. Two former DynCorp workers testified they were paid to arrange an overpriced lease of land in Iraq.

PHOTO COURTESY OF SPECIAL INSPECTOR GENERAL FOR AFGHANISTAN RECONSTRUCTION

By RACHEL WEINER | The Washington Post | Published: November 28, 2017

Two former DynCorp workers testified in Alexandria, Virginia federal court this week that they were paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by Fadhil Jamil al-Barwari, commander of the First Brigade of The Iraqi Special Operations Forces, to arrange an overpriced lease of land the general owned near the Baghdad airport starting in 2011.

Payments came through Emil Popescu, a Romanian contractor who had been hired by Barwari, the workers said. The details were revealed in the trial for Popescu, who is charged with conspiracy to violate the Anti-Kickback Act.

The onetime DynCorp workers, Wesley Struble and Jose Rivera, have pleaded guilty to their role in the conspiracy.

The scheme came together, Struble testified Monday, as the United States began drawing down its military presence in Iraq. Contractors were scrambling to find work while companies searched for new land to lease as U.S. bases closed.

It was Bawari who identified DynCorp as a possible tenant when another contractor, EOD Technology, was moving off his property, Struble testified. Struble had been working for EODT, which was paying $124,000 a month for the general's land under a Defense Department contract. Struble admitted in court earlier this year that he left EODT for DynCorp and, along with co-worker Jose Rivera, helped convince the company to pay over $665,000 for the same property.

"I would help him with whatever I could to make it happen," Struble testified about Bawari, and "he would take care of me."

In court Monday, however, Struble defended the expensive DynCorp lease, saying it involved more space and required more security than the EODT contract.

The State Department ultimately paid the bill, which came to $5.3 million in rent from September 2011 through April 2014.

Popescu's role was to be the "face" of Barwari's company, Struble said. He had lost his own job at EODT as the contractor's presence in Iraq shrunk. A friend of Rivera and Struble, Popescu was chosen as "someone reliable" to deal with DynCorp and handle the kickback payments, prosecutor Brian Harrison told jurors in his opening statement Monday. Barwari's two nephews had wanted to be in charge of the project but they were "very immature, unreliable, irresponsible," Struble testified.

For six or seven months of work at Barwari's company, Popescu was paid $400,000, Harrison said in court.

Popescu's attorney Dontae Bugg said in his opening statement that Popescu was not aware of the details of the conspiracy and backed out early on. While Popescu admits being the "money man" for Barwari in 2011, Bugg said the five-year statute of limitations for that crime has passed.

"Popescu was uncomfortable with this scenario. He said, 'I'm not going to be involved with this anymore, '" Bugg told the jury. "He effectively withdrew from that conspiracy."

The money Popescu was later paid by Bawari was a legitimate salary for building a camp on the general's property, Bugg contended.

But Rivera and Struble testified that while only their first payments came directly from Popescu's hands, he was involved in the conspiracy throughout and never expressed reservations. In fact, Rivera testified that the two came to believe that Popescu was working with Barwari's nephews to cut them out of the scheme.

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