Ex-Army intelligence officer focus of Kyrgyz corruption probes
A former U.S. Army intelligence colonel has emerged as the focus of investigations into corruption in Kyrgyzstan, the Central Asian host to an American air base and hub of fuel supplies to NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Lt. Col. Charles “Chuck” Squires is a former defense attaché at the U.S. Embassy in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek. Shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Squires formed a company that, despite having no track record in logistics, was awarded a sole-source contract to supply fuel to U.S. aircraft at the Manas base, according to congressional testimony and an investigation by The Nation magazine.
“A graduate of the Russian studies program at Harvard University, Squires appears to enjoy excellent rapport with American diplomats and military officers and good relations with senior figures in Kyrgyzstan, including President Bakiyev’s son Maksim, in whose company I have previously observed Squires at Bishkek’s Hyatt Regency Hotel,” Scott Horton, an adjunct professor at Columbia Law School told a House Oversight subcommittee hearing on Thursday.
Squires’s Red Star Enterprises, and another firm by the name of Mina Corp., share an official London address “in a former public housing complex that now leases office space to a multitude of small-time companies, escort agencies and business advisory services,” according to report by Eurasianet.org.
“At least one other figure involved in the London management of Red Star,” Horton told the national security subcommittee, “has close ties to the U.S. intelligence community.” He did not elaborate.
Red Star, Horton told the panel, appeared “out of nowhere to administer hundreds of millions of dollars in supply contracts and which appears to have no significant customers besides the Defense Department.”
“It was a huge contract, totaling $240 million over three years,” former NBC investigative reporter Aram Roston wrote in this week’s issue of The Nation magazine. Another, bigger one followed.
And soon enough, the family of President Askar Akayev, who led the country until 2005, had bustling businesses going at the base, too.
“Even if the Kyrgyz government wasn't getting paid much for the base, the Akayev family was reaping tens of millions,” Roston reports.
“It was heavily involved in business at the airport, running the two companies that operated as Red Star's subcontractors. One of them was run by Akayev's son, and the other by his son-in-law, and from 2002 to 2005 Red Star, operating on its US government contract, paid the firms about $120 million.”
The departments of Justice and Defense have looked at Red Star’s operations at the base and declined to prosecute, saying they found nothing illegal.
Outside investigators trying to find out the particulars of the contract, meanwhile, such as the price per gallon the Defense Department is paying for the fuel, have been hindered by a “national security” cloak thrown over the contract.
"Full and open competition need not be provided for when the disclosure of the agency's needs would compromise the national security, " according to the rule, which Roston dug up.
And “national security,” evidently, was defined as helping keep the pro-U.S. Akayev family in power. That’s the way the locals began to see it.
“It may have just been business,” Roston writes, “but the way Kyrgyz investigators later saw it, Red Star, the prime contractor, was the cut out for funneling funds to the Akayev family.”
Popular discontent with corruption in Kyrgyzstan finally erupted in the so-called 2005 Tulip Revolution, which chased the Akayev family from power. But Akayev’s successor, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, settled into the old ways, until he, too, was forced out on April 7.
Now the U.S. has no firm ally in Bishkek.
Each chapter of the drama gave off the the odor of corruption at the U.S. air base. Kyrgyzstan’s once-fervent support for the U.S. presence at the base has evaporated, witnesses told the panel.
Barnard professor Alexander Cooley, author of “Base Politics: Democratic Change and the U.S. Military Overseas,” urged U.S. officials to help the provisional government not just root out the corruption but “turn Manas-related payments and service contracts into a public benefit for Kyrgyzstan as a whole, rather than a private revenue stream for connected insiders.”
That still leaves the mysterious circumstances surrounding the sole-source contract Squires obtained from the Defense Department to supply aviation fuel to Bagram air base in Afghanistan, worth upwards of $1 billion, to explore.
And where is the mysterious Col. Squires? Not easily found.
“Chuck Squires, the director of operations of Red Star/Mina Corp., declined to answer any questions from EurasiaNet.org on April 19 and referred all inquires to a Mina Corp email address.,” the Web site said.
Maybe subcommittee chairman John F. Tierney, D-Mass., will have more luck.
On Apr. 12 he sent letters to Red Star, Mina Corp., the departments of State and Defense, and the FBI asking for details on the contracts.
Their answers are due May 3.
| April 22, 2010; 7:25 PM ET
Categories: Intelligence, Justice/FBI, Military
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