ABC NEWSU.S. Said to Pay Iraq Contractors in CashSat Feb 19, 2005 15:24188.8.131.52
U.S. Said to Pay Iraq Contractors in Cash
U.S. Paid Iraq Contractors With Cash, Some From Gunnysacks and Pickup Trucks, Ex-Official Says
Frank Willis, left, a senior Coalition Provisional Authority aviation and communications adviser from July through December 2003, and Darrell Trent stand in front of a pile of money at an undisclosed location in Baghdad in this 2003 photograph provided by Willis. U.S. occupation officials in Iraq paid a contractor by stuffing cash into his gunnysack and routinely made cash payments from an Iraqi Airways pickup truck Willis is scheduled to tell a panel of Democratic senators Monday on Capitol Hill. Trent was U.S. occupation senior adviser on transportation and telecommunications. (AP Photo/HO)
WASHINGTON Feb 14, 2005 — A former U.S. occupation official in Iraq thought he was in the Wild West in 2003 as he watched colleagues pull $2 million in fresh bills from a vault and stuff them in a contractor's gunnysack.
Cash payments that weren't stuffed in sacks were made from a pickup truck that bore the name of Iraq's grounded airline. American authorities thought the vehicle would "meld into the environment," the ex-official, Frank Willis, said.
Willis, who was a senior adviser in aviation and telecommunications, planned to describe his experience Monday to a panel of Democratic senators. The hearing is to spotlight the waste of money in Iraq by the former occupation agency, the Coalition Provisional Authority.
Because Iraq had no functioning banking system in 2003, money was kept in a basement vault in CPA headquarters, a former palace of Saddam Hussein.
Officials from the CPA, which ruled Iraq from June 2003 to June 2004, would count the money when it left the vault, but nobody kept track of the cash after that, Willis said.
"In sum: inexperienced officials, fear of decision-making, lack of communications, minimal security, no banks and lots of money to spread around. This chaos I have referred to as a 'Wild West,'" Willis said in testimony submitted to the Democratic Policy Committee.
"This isn't penny ante. Millions, perhaps billions of dollars have been wasted and pilfered," said the chairman of the Democratic panel, Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota. He said the hearing was arranged because the Republicans who run Congress have declined to investigate fraud, waste and abuse in Iraq.
James Mitchell, spokesman for the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, said in an interview that cash payments in Iraq were a problem when the occupation authority ran the country, and they continue during the massive U.S.-funded reconstruction.
"There are no capabilities to electronically transfer funds," Mitchell said. "This complicates the financial management of reconstruction projects and complicates our ability to follow the money."
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