The Department of Justice is investigating a military contracting company, Sallyport Global Services, to find out if it played a role in the alleged bribery of Iraqi government officials in exchange for exclusive contracts that cost American taxpayers billions.
But even the Feds may not realize the depth of the suspected corruption.
An investigation by the independent Government Accountability Project for The Daily Beast raises disturbing questions that go far beyond rogue employees of a Pentagon contractor.
Powerful individuals, including Iraq’s former Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, are tied to a Kuwaiti company called Afaq which allegedly sold access and dictated terms for a significant number of American military contracts.
The story of Afaq and its ties to American military contractors in Iraq comes from whistleblowers, who spoke out at great personal risk, and we were able to confirm several details through public and corporate documents.
Of the more than 30 sources interviewed, including contractors and people in business in Iraq, all asked to remain anonymous, citing fear of potential retaliation.
“This is top secret,” said one contractor who refused to speak further.
The winding road into this story begins at a Sallyport facility in Iraq.
Sallyport operates military installations throughout the Middle East and Central Asia, but its crown jewel is Balad Air Base, a large F-16 base north of Baghdad.
Balad is an Iraqi base, but it’s funded by the U.S. government.
In January 2014, Sallyport acquired an Air Force contract to provide security, training, and “life support,” which means providing necessities like food and electricity, on base. Sallyport has received $1.1 billion for its work at Balad. It predicts it will earn $800 million more by 2021.
Prior to obtaining the Balad contract, Sallyport made a deal with a company called Afaq Umm Qasr Marine Services. Sallyport sources, including senior employees at Balad and in the company’s Reston, Virginia office, identified Afaq as a “partner.”
Afaq’s alleged activities on behalf of Sallyport caught the Justice Department’s attention, said four sources.
Corporate documents outlined this relationship.
Sallyport is controlled by a holding company called Caliburn International, which is owned by a private equity firm, D.C. Capital Partners.
Until recently, Sallyport was managed by a third D.C. Capital Partners company, Michael Baker International, an engineering and consulting firm. In 2018, Sallyport was transferred to Caliburn to be taken public.
Documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission by Caliburn disclose that in October 2016 an Iraq Defense Ministry employee alleged that Afaq promised money to Iraqi government officials in return for these officials naming Sallyport as a service provider at Balad. Since Balad is an Iraqi base, the Iraqi government has input on which contractors are hired to work there. Afaq’s ties to Iraqi government officials were confirmed by 17 sources.
Afaq “smoothed things over with Iraqi officials,” said a former member of Sallyport leadership at Balad.
Afaq is ultimately controlled by al-Maliki, according to 10 sources, some of whom had firsthand knowledge of al-Maliki’s involvement, while other sources’ information was secondhand.
Al-Maliki’s son, Ahmad al-Maliki, and later his son-in-law, Yasser Sukhail al-Maliki, were also involved with Afaq, sources said.
The former prime minister doesn’t micromanage Afaq, sources said, but they allege that he got paid, and that connection worked for Sallyport. When Sallyport officials needed to meet with al-Maliki, Afaq’s management “would set it up,” said the former senior official at Balad.
The Department of Justice is now investigating potential violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and other U.S. laws arising from Sallyport’s relationship with Afaq. The government’s investigation “considers whether Sallyport’s former management knew, or should have known” about the payments allegedly promised by Afaq “to Iraqi government officials,” said the Caliburn SEC filing.
These former managers are believed to be Michael Baker executives, who according to Caliburn’s filing deny any knowledge of Afaq’s alleged wrongdoing in securing the Iraqi government’s support of Sallyport.
Michael Baker’s former CEO, Kurt Bergman, allegedly made the business deal with Afaq. Michael Baker’s COO, Nick Gross, was allegedly responsible for implementing that deal. We have not been able to learn whether either Bergman or Gross are subjects of the Department of Justice investigation.
Also unknown is whether the Department of Justice investigation could be aiming higher than an engineering firm’s former C-suite staff.
Thomas Campbell, the owner of D.C. Capital Partners, was allegedly briefed on the Afaq deal, a former Sallyport official said.
Gross did not respond to calls and messages and Bergman declined to comment, so we were unable to confirm firsthand details of who else they may have told about deals with Afaq.
But the boards of D.C. Capital Partners and Michael Baker International included powerful people and there are legitimate questions about who knew or should have known about how Afaq obtained the Iraqi government’s blessing for Sallyport’s Balad contract.