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Context of 'August 27, 2003: Custer Battles Bilks CPA in Contract for Iraqi Currency Program'

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Mohammed Said Nabulsi, Jordan’s central bank governor, orders the country’s banks to deposit 30 percent of their foreign exchange holdings with the central bank. The measure is part of an effort to enforce regulations on liquidity ratios and reduce the outflow of foreign exchange from Jordan. Petra, run by Ahmed Chalabi, is the only bank among the 20 that is unable to comply with the order. At the urging of Nabulsi, King Hussein puts Petra under government supervision and orders an audit of the bank’s books. Petra’s board of directors are replaced and an investigation begins. Two weeks later, in August 1989, Chalabi flees the country—reportedly with $70 million. According to Hudson Institute’s Max Singer, Prince Hassan personally drives Chalabi to the Jordanian border, helping him escape. The investigation subsequently uncovers evidence of massive fraud. “The scale of fraud at Petra Bank was enormous,” Nabulsi will later recall. “It was like a tiny Enron.” Arthur Andersen determines that the bank’s assets are overstated by $200 million. The bank is found to have enormous bad debts (about $80 million); “unsupported foreign currency balances at counter-party banks” (about $20 million); and money purportedly owed to the bank which could not be found (about $60 million). Millions of dollars of depositors’ money had been routed to the Chalabi family empire in Switzerland, Lebanon, and London, in the form of loans that had not been repaid. The Chalabi family’s Swiss and Lebanese firms, Mebco and Socofi, are later put into liquidation. As a result of the fraud, the Jordanian government is forced to pay $200 million to depositors whose money had disappeared, and to avert a potential collapse of the country’s entire banking system. [American Prospect, 11/18/2002; Guardian, 4/14/2003; Salon, 5/4/2004; CounterPunch, 5/20/2004; New Yorker, 6/7/2004; Christian Science Monitor, 6/15/2004] Chalabi later provides a different account of what happened. According to Zaab Sethna, a spokesman for the Iraqi National Congress, King Hussein of Jordan turned on Chalabi in coordination with Iraq because Chalabi was “using the bank to fund [Iraqi] opposition groups and learning a lot about illegal arms transfers to Saddam.” Petra Bank was also providing the CIA with information on the Jordanian-Iraqi trade. [American Prospect, 11/18/2002; New Yorker, 6/7/2004]

Entity Tags: Mohammed Said Nabulsi, Hussein bin Talal, Petra Bank, Arthur Andersen, Middle East Banking Corp., Ahmed Chalabi

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

The US Agency for International Development asks BearingPoint, Inc to bid on a sole-sourced contract for “economic governance” work in Iraq. The contract document, which USAID says will eventually be opened up to a select pool of additional companies, was written by Treasury Department officials and reviewed by financial consultants. The confidential 100-page request, titled “Moving The Iraqi Economy From Recovery to Sustainable Growth,” states that the contractor will help support “private sector involvement in strategic sectors, including privatization, asset sales, concessions, leases and management contracts, especially in the oil and supporting industries.” The bid request lays out a plan to, among other things, rapidly replace Iraq’s currency; identify industries for consolidation, liquidation, and privatization; “rationalize” and “modernize” Iraqi banking and financial sectors; develop taxation, legal, and regulatory regimes to compliment a new market-based economy; devise a plan to turn Iraq’s rudimentary stock market into a “world-class exchange” for trading the shares of newly privatized companies; and create a public relations campaign to promote these changes to the public. Summarizing US objectives for the economic reorganization, the document states, “It should be clearly understood that the efforts undertaken will be designed to establish the basic legal framework for a functioning market economy; taking appropriate advantages of the unique opportunity for rapid progress in this area presented by the current configuration of political circumstances.” [Wall Street Journal, 5/1/2003]

Entity Tags: US Department of State, BearingPoint

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

CPA Officials Posing with $2 Million in CashCPA Officials Posing with $2 Million in Cash [Source: US Congress. House Committee on Government Reform] (click image to enlarge)The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) awards a $16.84 million sole-source contract to a small McLean, VA -based firm called Custer Battles to provide security at Baghdad International Airport (BIAP). It will later be alleged by former employees of the firm that Custer Battles bilked the CPA by diverting airport personnel to other jobs. An investigation by the Washington Monthly will later discover that the company had very few qualifications for the job and managed the contract in an extremely disorganized manner. One witness describes how the CPA paid the company with a wheelbarrow filled with $2 million in cash. Colonel Richard Ballard, an inspector general for the coalition forces, becomes extremely dismayed with the company’s conduct after examining its performance. His investigation is continuously obstructed by the company which argues that it has no legal obligation to cooperate because it is being paid with Iraqi assets and not money from the Pentagon. He discovers that employees often possess inadequate equipment and training. He is especially appalled by the employees’ “refusal to open the cargo doors of lorries to inspect.” Ballard makes known his concern that the CPA has exercised inadequate oversight of the contract and writes that a “formal audit would likely conclude fraud and potentially gross negligence in the area of contract oversight.” [Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, 7/30/2004, pp. 50 pdf file; Washington Monthly, 7/2006]

Entity Tags: Coalition Provisional Authority, Custer Battles, LLC

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Custer Battles is awarded a “cost plus” contract in Iraq to provide security and logistical support for the Iraqi Currency Exchange, a CPA-created agency charged with replacing the country’s old currency with a new currency. Under the terms of the contract, Custer Battles is to be paid for all of its operational expenses, plus a 25 percent markup for overhead and profit. According to a lawsuit that is later filed against the company, Custer Battles uses a complex network of shell companies to inflate the fee it gets to over 60 percent of its actual costs. In one notorious incident, the company bills the CPA for the use of at least one forklift that it does not even own. The forklift belonged to Iraqi Airways and was confiscated by Custer Battles employees. Paint was used to cover up the Iraqi Airways insignia on the machine. [Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, 7/30/2004, pp. 79 pdf file; Grayson and DiMuro, 8/26/2004, pp. 3, 15-17, 21 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Custer Battles, LLC, Iraqi Currency Exchange

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Pallets of US Currency Arriving in IraqPallets of US Currency Arriving in Iraq [Source: US Congress. House Committee on Government Reform] (click image to enlarge)At the request of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the Federal Reserve Bank sends the CPA $2.4 billion in cash. This is the largest cash pay-out of US currency in Federal Reserve history. This shipment is quickly followed by another large shipment three days later (see June 25, 2004). The money is drawn from the Development Fund for Iraq (DFI)and special US Treasury accounts containing revenues from sales of Iraqi oil exports, surplus dollars from the UN-run oil-for-food program, and frozen assets that belonged to the government of Saddam Hussein. [US Congress, 2/6/2007 pdf file; Reuters, 2/7/2007]

Entity Tags: US Federal Reserve, Coalition Provisional Authority

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad orders that his country’s foreign exchange reserves be moved from the dollar to the euro, setting the stage for the Iranian Central Bank to cut its foreign currency reserve interests rates from 12 percent to 5 percent. The estimated rate cut makes it cheaper for the bank to acquire foreign currency. “They have been talking about switching their foreign currency reserve from the dollar to the euro for a while now, but it makes them more dependent on the euro and the European Union,” says Dr. Ali Ansari, director of Scotland’s St. Andrews University Iranian Studies Centre.
Followed Call Addressed to OPEC - Ahmadinejad’s decision comes shortly after he called for the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to discard the dollar as the currency standard for oil-related deals. Despite recent declines in dollar value and the fact that most major oil producing countries are outside the US, the dollar remains the prevailing currency for pricing a barrel of oil. The dollar also remains the most frequently used international trade currency.
Possible Motivation - Some analysts believe that exchanging the dollar for the euro may be Iran’s attempt to lessen the effects of US economic sanctions in force since the 1979 Islamic revolution when the US backed the overthrown Shah of Iran, who was replaced by an Islamic republic. US sanctions include prohibiting US involvement with Iran’s petroleum development, as well as prohibiting all trade and investment activities by US citizens around the globe. Sanctions were softened somewhat in 2000, when the US Treasury amended its prohibition edict by allowing US citizens to buy and import carpets and food products like dried fruits, nuts, and caviar produced in Iran. Recent media reports suggest, however, that President Obama is considering an increase in sanctions if Iran persists in its alleged development of nuclear weapons. Iran maintains that its nuclear program is solely for power production. [Media Line, 9/22/2009]

Entity Tags: Iran, Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Ali Ansari

Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises

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