KGL – A Test Case on Sanctions?
FBI Gathers Evidence
Documents seen by POGO indicate that both the FBI and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service have spoken to Mrs. Abdul Wahab and other witnesses. She says she was interviewed by senior FBI agents in Kuwait on multiple occasions in 2011, the time frame within which Members of Congress were being told that KGL was above suspicion. The tone and content of email exchanges between her and FBI agents strongly suggest that the agents view her as a valued cooperator.
One email from last April shows Mrs. Abdul Wahab telling an FBI agent that:
KGL is currently tampering with evidence that would demonstrate that they lied to the U.S. Government about their activities in Iran, the misrepresentations were in order to win U.S. Government contracting business.
In reply, another FBI agent set up what appear to have been a series of meetings at the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait. According to one message, the FBI agent wrote that “security staff has arranged for us to meet in an area away from the main building where we should be free from interruption.”
Mrs. Abdul Wahab says that in July 2011, she and her husband were locked up in a Kuwait jail for several days. Anxious to return to her three small children, Mrs. Abdul Wahab appealed directly to FBI agents who, she says, facilitated her release through the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait. At one point, she says they offered her assistance in fleeing Kuwait at a time when she was also facing criminal charges in the country that are still pending.
“We are going to do everything we can to get you released,” one FBI agent wrote, apparently in connection with the effort.
“[FBI agent’s name withheld by POGO] is meeting with people at the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait to see what we can do. I hope that we will be able to get you very soon out [of jail] and see justice done. After you are out we can talk about options for getting you out of the country,” reads another email.
Just over a month later, in September 2011, Mrs. Abdul Wahab says she was again put in jail, and then released after a few days. She again appealed to the FBI, who told her they might be able to offer little help this time.
“This case is very difficult and political, even within the U.S. Government, and there is little that we can do to protect you…” the agent informed her.
In the meantime, though, Mrs. Abdul Wahab told the FBI how to get in touch with witnesses in the U.S.— several American citizens and former executive-level KGL employees. POGO interviewed two members of this group; neither would comment about the FBI.
But both affirmed that during their employment with KGL they had been deeply concerned about the company’s dealings with Iran. Both said they had been asked repeatedly to give KGL assistance with Iran, which they refused to do. Both were eventually fired, they said, in large measure because of this refusal.
One ex-KGL executive, a senior financial professional, was very specific. He wrote of being “Continuously pressured and asked multiple time [sic] participate in assisting companies in Iran… to raise funds and other work for these Irani [sic] companies.”
He named the companies as Valfajre and its parent company, IRISL (the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines), both sanctioned entities since 2008—when the U.S. accused the Iranian state-owned firm of serial deception and direct involvement in the transport of missile and other components related to Iran’s nuclear program.
“Upon refusal,” the KGL executive later wrote, “this was again used to force my dismissal…” He also complained of being asked to engage in “fund raising activities in Russia for the purpose of providing funds to Iran [sic] companies,” and to facilitate a company bid to acquire and operate a port facility in Syria designated by the U.S. as a state sponsor of terror.
In March 2011, the U.S. Treasury issued public a warning that reads in part:
Given the active and ongoing attempts at sanctions evasion by IRISL, OFAC advises all persons to exercise enhanced due diligence to ensure that they do not unwittingly process fraudulent shipping documents or facilitate prohibited activities.
As if taking a page from OFAC, over which Sen. Menendez exercises oversight, the Senator’s March 19 letter to the Treasury cites ties between Iran and KGL, relaunching the controversy that the Deputy Secretary of Defense supposedly settled last year.
The Senator’s letter highlights a pair of cargo vessels, the Merjan and the Awafi, that have been, “moved around in a shell game from banned companies to KGL,” transporting cargoes back and forth to the Islamic Republic. Citing public sources, Menendez adds that the vessels were, “as recently as March 2011, still chartered to” an Iranian-linked company outlawed under U.S. sanctions. “It appears those banned ships have never changed their practices but have been moved around in a shell game from banned companies to KGL, who appears to have chartered them back to banned entities,” the Senator writes.
For the period after March 2011, a time frame not addressed in Menendez’s letter, POGO found public databases which seem to show still more dates, the latest in January 2012, when the same merchant vessels shuttled around the Gulf with stops at Iran’s ports of Bandar Khomeini and Khoramshahr, as well as the port of Jebel Ali in the United Arab Emirates.
At a time when the attention of the American public and debate in the Senate focuses on strengthening sanctions against Iran, the time has come to set the record straight about what is going on with KGL, and its big DoD contracts. After what seems like many months of investigation, when will someone in the U.S. government provide clarity, as Congress considers legislation to better protect employees who allege wrongdoing at contractors, like KGL, that work for the U.S. military? (Click HERE for original article)
Adam Zagorin is POGO’s journalist in residence.