Wednesday, September 24, 2008

$13 Billion in Iraq Aid Wasted Or Stolen, Ex-Investigator Says

By Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 23, 2008; Page A19

A former Iraqi official estimated yesterday that more than $13 billion meant for reconstruction projects in Iraq was wasted or stolen through elaborate fraud schemes.

Salam Adhoob, a former chief investigator for Iraq's Commission on Public Integrity, told the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, an arm of the Democratic caucus, that an Iraqi auditing bureau "could not properly account for" the money.

While many of the projects audited "were not needed -- and many were never built," he said, "this very real fact remains: Billions of American dollars that paid for these projects are now gone."

He said a report that went to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other top Iraqi officials was never published because "nobody cares" about investigating such cases. Many investigators, he said, feared for their safety because 32 of his co-workers have been murdered.

Adhoob said he reported the abuses to the U.S. Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, an agency charged by Congress with helping to root out cases of waste, fraud and abuse in the nearly $50 billion U.S. reconstruction effort. SIGIR spokeswoman Kristine Belisle said her agency continues to "actively follow up" on Adhoob's information, but she would not discuss ongoing investigations.

Adhoob was one of three Iraqi men who testified before the Democratic panel yesterday. Abbas S. Mehdi, a former Iraqi official who held a cabinet-level post, told of widespread corruption. And an Iraqi American who for five years has been a senior adviser to Defense and State department officials in Iraq testified in silhouette by video from an undisclosed location because, he said, he feared for his safety. In a modified voice, he said Iraqi government officials worked with al-Qaeda terrorists at the Baiji refinery to steal oil to sell on the black market.
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Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.), who chairs the committee, said that "taxpayers have been bled dry with massive misuse of public dollars."

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