Pentagon, State blasted over Kyrgyz jet-fuel deals

Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, December 21, 2010

To keep U.S. warplanes flying over Afghanistan, the Pentagon allowed a "secrecy obsessed" business group to supply jet fuel to a U.S. air base in Kyrgyzstan, turning a blind eye to an elaborate fraud involving fuel deliveries from Russia, according to congressional investigators.

In a report due to be released Tuesday, the House subcommittee on national security and foreign affairs hammers the Pentagon as well as State Department diplomats for ignoring red flags raised by jet fuel contracts worth nearly $2 billion for the Manas Transit Center, a U.S. base used for in-flight refueling over Afghanistan.

The U.S. military's long but mostly hidden dependence on Russian fuel is a sensitive issue. The congressional report, which details the use of false end-user certification to evade Russian export restrictions, comes as Moscow and authorities in Kyrgyzstan are pushing to wrest control of the lucrative jet fuel supply business from a Gibraltar-registered business group comprising Mina Corp. and Red Star Enterprises.

Subcommittee Chairman John F. Tierney (D-Mass.) warned that the United States "should be very cautious about the potential for overreliance on Russian fuel supplies supporting the mission in Afghanistan." He added that the previous use of deception to obtain Russian fuel raised concerns.

The report, which follows an eight-month investigation into the jet fuel contracts, found no evidence of corrupt ties between Mina Corp. or Red Star and the families of Kyrgyz leaders. Yet it cautioned that a lack of proper oversight and a neglect of America's broader interests in the region had often left Washington blind to "political, diplomatic and geopolitical collateral consequences." These include the ouster of two Kyrgyz governments in popular revolts stirred in part by anger over alleged jet fuel corruption as well as U.S. ties with Moscow.

Only last month did the Defense Logistics Agency, or DLA, ask who owns the Gibraltar-registered business group that has won jet fuel contracts with a total value of about $3 billion in Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan.

John Lough, a spokesman for Mina Corp. and Red Star, declined to comment on the report's findings, saying the firms had not yet seen it. The DLA also declined to comment for the same reason.

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