House panel probes ex-Kyrgyz leaders' ties to fuel deliveries at Manas air base

Otunbayeva: Air base deal to be extended.
Otunbayeva: Air base deal to be extended. (Nina Gorshkova - AP)
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By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A House panel conducting a preliminary investigation into U.S. contracting in Afghanistan has turned its focus on what its chairman called Tuesday the "unexplained relationships" between the families of two Kyrgyzstan presidents and fuel supplies to a key U.S. air base there.

"Two overthrows of the government there have been linked to corrupt dealings at Manas air base," said Rep. John F. Tierney (D-Mass.), chairman of the national security subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. "That's what we are looking into."

The base refuels U.S. warplanes operating over Afghanistan and serves as a major transit hub for U.S. troops and material. Roza Otunbayeva, Kyrgyzstan's interim leader, told the Associated Press on Tuesday that the agreement allowing the U.S. military to use it will be prolonged after the current one-year deal expires in July.

"It will be automatically extended for the next year," she said.

The House panel's initial inquiry focused on fuel deliveries to Bagram air base in Afghanistan and a firm called Red Star Enterprises, based in London. Tierney said Tuesday that although Red Star has received more than $700 million from the Pentagon's Defense Energy Support Center, his investigators have yet to determine who owns the firm, which serves as a broker for refineries in Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan.

The support center's listed chief contact at Red Star is Charles "Chuck" Squires, a U.S. Army attache in Kyrgyzstan in the 1990s, who describes himself on the LinkedIn Web site as director of operations for Red Star and Minacorp, a subcontractor for services at Manas. An attempt to reach him by e-mail was unsuccessful.

Red Star holds a unique contracting position in Afghanistan. It owns and rents storage tanks outside the U.S.-run Bagram air base and has a contract to deliver oil products from its tanks to a distribution facility on the base. From there, trucks deliver fuel to other bases in the country.

When Kurmanbek Bakiyev took over the Kyrgyz presidency in 2005 as a result of the Tulip Revolution protests, he asked the FBI to help probe allegations that the family of the deposed president, Askar Akayev, had benefited from subcontracts Red Star gave to a firm called Manas International Services. Bakiyev was himself ousted from office last week, and opponents allege that his son, Maksim, became a main stockholder in Red Star's subcontractor.

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