First Kuwaiti, the company contracted to build the $600 million dollar U.S. Embassy in Bagdhad has been accused of using forced labor to build the one-hundred four acre U.S. State Department site:
Whistleblowers who worked on the embassy have told officials at the State and Justice departments, as well as NBC News, that the contractor, First Kuwaiti International Trading, had brought workers, mostly South Asians and Filipinos, to Baghdad under false pretenses, then abused and threatened them while there.
The embassy (dubbed Fortress Baghdad), one-hundred four acres - twenty-one buildings -- $600 million dollars, will be "as big as Vatican City" according to the NBC Nightly News Report (video).
The good news? It's on time and budget ($600 million of your taxpayer dollars at work...).
The bad? It's been alleged to have been built with forced labor and it may not be secure.
From an Australian Report:
On the west bank of the Tigris, at the edge of Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, a forest of cranes marks the progress of Iraq's newest monument: a US embassy that will be the largest in the world.
Once an army of more than 3,500 workers have completed construction next June, the vast site will be the hub of the American administration in Iraq.
First Kuwaiti, the contractor that has received $400 million for the embassy project, to date, denies the allegations:
The State Department and First Kuwaiti deny the allegations, but State admits it is continuing to monitor human trafficking and abuse allegations and the Justice Department has begun a preliminary inquiry out of its Civil Rights Division.
According to the NBC report: First Kuwaiti has received over one billion dollars in other contracts from the U.S. Army, the Army Corps of Engineers and Halliburton, which hired it as a subcontractor on other projects.
The main whistleblower is a medic named Rory Mayberry, who was contracted by First Kuwaiti to work on the embassy project:
Mayberry alleges that when he showed up at the Kuwait airport for his flight into Baghdad, there were 51 Filipino employees of First Kuwaiti also waiting for the same flight — except the Filipinos believed they were going to Dubai.
"The steward was having problems keeping guys in their seats because they were so upset, wanted to get off the airplane," says Mayberry. "They were upset they weren’t headed to Dubai where they were promised they were working."
He says when he arrived in Baghdad he notified the State Department official in charge of the embassy project about what had happened on his flight and she replied "that’s the way they do it."
The State Department Inspector General, Howard J. Krongard, says he did a "limited investigation" after Mayberry's complaint and found no wrongdoing. But then added that the company had three months notice that he was coming.
Asked for a comment, First Kuwaiti's co-founder, Wadih al-Absi, called the charges: "bullshit."
This is not the first time such allegations have arisen, however. The Chicago Tribune raised questions in 2005 about Nepalese workers who'd claimed to have been forced to go to Iraq:
"The company was forcing them to go to Iraq," said Lok Bahadur Thapa, the former acting Nepalese ambassador to Saudi Arabia.
A First Kuwaiti executive, Wadih al-Absi, acknowledged that Thapa helped Nepalis at the firm's compound return to their homeland. But he denied anyone from First Kuwaiti tried to coerce them into Iraq. "It's nonsense," he said.
Mayberry also brought up concerns about conditions at the medical clinics within the construction site. He said that workers were given painkillers by Indian nurses who "didn't know anything" and recommended one of the clinics should be closed due to lack of water and unsanitary conditions. His charges also include two wrongful worker deaths due to incorrect medications/possible allergic reactions.
The embassy itself, described by Andrea Mitchell of NBC as being "the size of Vatican City," has raised significant controversy over security, due to repeated rocket attacks, the publishing of the plans to the media, as well as the costs:
"They thought they could simply make it work by spending more money and more money until they got to the point where the amounts were so obscene that nobody dared say no," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. "Just throw money at it — or take our money out of something we need in the United States — just toss it over there."
Here's a link to First Kuwaiti's KBR (Halliburton Subsidiary) subcontracts.
Here's the link to First Kuwaiti's US Army contracts.
Here's the link to First Kuwaiti's website.
Here's the link to the NBC report.
To the Australian Report.
And a link to the Nightly News report on the Embassy with Brian Williams.