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US claims $100 million of Iraq reconstruction money disappeared



U.S. Can't Account for $100M Spent in Iraq

WASHINGTON (AP) - U.S. government mismanagement of assets in Iraq, from the lack of proper documentation on nearly $100 million in cash to millions of dollars worth of unaccounted-for equipment, are setting back efforts to fight corruption in the fledgeling democracy, auditors and critics say.

Iraq became awash in billions of dollars in cash after the U.S. invasion two years ago, often with few or no controls over how that money was spent and accounted for. From the $8.8 billion provided to Iraq's interim government to millions provided to U.S. contractors, investigations have detailed a system ripe for abuse.

The latest indication of that came Wednesday when investigators released a report saying $96.6 million in cash could not be properly accounted for. The total included more than $7 million that was simply gone, according to the report from the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction.

It said $89.4 million in cash payments in south-central Iraq were made without the necessary supporting documentation, the investigation found. Indications of fraud and other wrongdoing are the subject of separate, continuing probes.

Wednesday's report accused civilian contract managers of ``simply washing accounts'' to try to make the books balance. Staffing shortages and the quick turnover of those responsible for the cash contributed to the problems, the report said, echoing the findings in previous reports.

Examples of possible misspending in Iraq revealed in recent months include:

- ``Less than adequate controls'' over $8.8 billion given to the interim Iraqi government between the March 2003 invasion and the hand over of power to Iraqis on June 28, 2004.

- Projected totals of nearly $20 million in missing or unaccounted-for equipment in Baghdad and Kuwait.

- A lack of proper rules governing some $600 million in cash handed out by U.S. authorities.

Critics say the freewheeling postwar spending in Iraq is, at best, providing a poor example for the new Iraqi government to follow.

``A normal citizen couldn't live this way,'' said Danielle Brian of the Project on Government Oversight, an independent watchdog group. ``Until there are serious penalties imposed on agencies that are sloppy with their spending, we're just going to see more of the same.''

A congressional critic of U.S. reconstruction spending in Iraq went further.

``The U.S. risks fostering a culture of corruption in Iraq,'' said Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis.

Officials of the U.S. civilian and military administrations in Iraq say they're doing the best they can under the circumstances. The organization now overseeing cash payments in Iraq has clamped down on documentation and is trying to reconcile its past accounts, Col. Thomas Stefanko, the official in charge of that office, told auditors.

Stefanko wrote the investigators that he agreed with their conclusions. Stefanko said his office had corrected or was in the process of fixing or investigating the problems identified in the report.

The money at issue in the latest report is from proceeds from Iraqi oil sales and seizures from the regime of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Distribution of the money was handled first by the Coalition Provisional Authority, the U.S.-run occupation government in Iraq from 2003 to June 28, 2004.

After that, the money was overseen by the Joint Area Support Group-Central, which is managed from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

Managers gave the cash to ``division level agents'' responsible for distributing the money for reconstruction programs in a certain area. Those agents were supposed to keep detailed, signed receipts and other documentation for the money they spent, but usually did not, the report said.

Part of the problem was a last-minute push to spend millions on reconstruction projects before the interim Iraqi government took over, the report said. One agent got $6.75 million in cash a week before the hand over, with the expectation that the money would be spent before the Iraqis took power, the report said.

Several of these agents ``were under the impression that it was more important to quickly distribute the money to the region than to obtain all necessary documentation,'' the report said.

Controls over the cash were so lax that two of the agents hired to distribute the money were allowed to leave Iraq before they had accounted for all of it, the report said. Between them, those two had been given more than $1.4 million in cash which remains unaccounted for, the report said.

A different agent failed to provide proper documentation for more than $12.4 million in spending but had his accounts cleared by his supervisors, the report said.

Yet another agent kept distributing money for three weeks after his authority to handle the funds was revoked, the report said. That agent, told that $1,878,870 was missing from his account, delivered precisely that amount to his supervisors three days later, the report said.

That suggests, the report said, that the agent had a reserve of cash and only turned in enough to make his account balance.


SOURCE

The Guardian, "U.S. Can't Account for $100M Spent in Iraq", 5 May 2005.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/worldlatest/story/0,1280,-4983811,00.html

"The Insider" mailing list article, 05 May 2005.

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Tags: Iraq, reconstruction, money, lost, missing, dissapeared, millions, dollars, unaccounted, corruption, occupation, , conspiracy theories.

 
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