Kyrgyzstan: American Manas Fuel-Supply Investigators Find No Evidence of Wrongdoing
A US Congressional investigation into the operations of Mina Corp, a Gibraltar-registered company that holds the Pentagon’s fuel-delivery contract at Manas Transit Center in Kyrgyzstan, is drawing to a close, having found no evidence of wrongdoing. But US officials are not ruling out the possibility of a follow-up investigation at a future date.
The National Security and Foreign Affairs Subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform launched its investigation in April into Mina Corp and Red Star Enterprises Ltd., the previous holder of the fuel supply contract at Manas, a key logistics hub
for the US and NATO war effort in Afghanistan. Investigators searched for evidence that Mina Corp and Red Star may have engaged in improper business practices, including possibly entering into corrupt deals with former Kyrgyz presidents Kurmanbek Baliyev and Askar Akayev, and/or their associates.
“The investigation conducted by the USA is complete and it did not find any evidence to back up the allegations,” US Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Tatiana Gfoeller said during an appearance on Kyrgyz state television on November 11.
Gfoeller qualified her assessment of the investigation, however, saying that a new probe could open if a corruption investigation currently being carried out by Kyrgyz authorities culminates with the indictments of suspected wrong-doers in Bishkek. The discovery of “reliable evidence” by Kyrgyz investigators could “possibly become a stimulus for a new round of investigation,” the US envoy noted.
In addition to looking into possible ties between Mina Corp and Red Star and the Bakiyev and Akayev clans, Kyrgyz investigators also are trying to determine whether Manas fuel suppliers were involved in a scheme to re-export cheap Russian fuel to third countries, including Afghanistan.
Kyrgyz politicians and experts have hinted that criminal charges may well arise out of the Bishkek investigation. Baktybek Abdrisaev, a former Kyrgyz ambassador to the United States, during a public appearance in Washington, DC, on November 17 described the Manas fuel-delivery issue as “the major, immediate irritant in the relationship between Kyrgyzstan and the United States.”
“It is well known in Kyrgyzstan that the Bakiyev family became deeply engaged in the aviation fuel business from 2006, and there was only one buyer,” Abdrisaev said. “After the 2010 revolution, the new government accused Red Star/Mina Corp of enriching the former president and opened a criminal investigation. Since that time, none of the companies’ principals have visited Kyrgyzstan, perhaps to avoid having to answer questions from criminal investigators.”
Rep. John Tierney, a Massachusetts Democrat and the current chairman of the National Security and Foreign Affairs Subcommittee, stated on November 3 that his panel had not found “any credible evidence to support the allegations that the Bakiyev family or their affiliates, owned or received financial benefits from the fuel contractors or subcontractors.”
US investigators faced formidable and unusual challenges during the investigation, which involved the gathering of copious amounts information from the State Department, Department of Defense, the companies under investigation and officials in Kyrgyzstan.
Observers in both Washington, DC, and in Bishkek raised questions about the extent to which Kyrgyz authorities cooperated with the US subcommittee’s probe. Kyrgyz cooperation could have been crucial in detailing Mina Corp’s relationships with subcontractors, and it is puzzling, given that Bishkek is publicly opposed to Mina Corp, that more assistance was not forthcoming, one Bishkek-based source said. Another observer in Bishkek noted, however, that criminal investigations under Kyrgyz law are supposed to be conducted with rigorous confidentiality. Evidence and information uncovered during such investigations are not supposed to be shared with outside parties until and unless criminal charges are actually brought against individuals, the observer added.
Representatives of Mina Corp and Red Star have repeatedly insisted that the two entities fully cooperated with the US congressional investigation.
However, the record shows that congressional investigators felt compelled to issue subpoenas during the summer to obtain testimony from Red Star/Mina’s director of operations, Chuck Squires, as well as from Erkin Bekbolotov, a Kyrgyz citizen who is listed as a beneficial owner of Mina Corp, according to the Defense Logistic Agency.
A subpoena was also issued for Douglas Edelman, a man described in various press reports as reclusive and elusive, to give testimony. Edelman -- according to media accounts, including a lengthy investigative report published by the Washington Post -- is believed to exert extensive influence over Mina Corp.
But according to documentation provided to the Pentagon after it had already awarded Mina Corp a new contract for Manas supplies in 2011, Edelman was not listed as a beneficial owner of Mina Corp. But his wife, Delphine Le Dain, was, along with Bekbolotov.
Edelman, a native of California, now maintains a residence in London. Investigators flew to London in an attempt to obtain testimony from Edelman. But for reasons that have not been publicly disclosed, Edelman never met with congressional investigators, despite the subpoena for him to give testimony, according to published reports.
Several media reports have linked Edelman to an entity called Aspen Wind Corp , which is registered in both Belize and the State of New York. Aspen Wind Corp has, in turn, been tied to strategic entities in Afghanistan, including Neda Telecommunications, Afghanistan’s first licensed internet service provider. Trade publications and press releases in 2004, for example, characterized Neda Communications as a “subsidiary” of Aspen Wind Corp.
Aspen Wind also appears to have connections to Mina Corp: the Gibraltar registration documents for Mina Corp and Red Star Enterprises, for example, reveals that those two companies, along with Aspen Wind, list Jesse Hester as a nominee director. Hester is a Dubai-based offshore company formation specialist.
Aspen Wind Corp last appeared active in March 2010, when it is mentioned as a shareholder in AmLib, a Liberian gold exploration company.
A source close to Mina Corp told EurasiaNet.org in May, 2010, that a “loose” and “informal partnership” may have existed between Aspen Wind Corp and Neda Telecommunications. John Lough, spokesman for Red Star/Mina, would not respond directly to questions about Edelman’s potential relationship with Aspen Wind Corp, or that entity’s relationship to Neda Communications.
“I represent Mina and Red Star. Neda Telecommunications and Aspen Wind are separate companies. I can’t, therefore, speak for them,” Lough said. Edelman has not responded to repeated requests by EurasiaNet for an interview.
Deirdre Tynan is a Bishkek-based reporter specializing in Central Asian affairs.