Theft of the Century " three times bigger than reported"
AS Afghans go hungry and Iraqis protest at failure to restore essential services in their oil-rich but war-shattered country, it is reported that billions of dollars supposedly poured in for aid and reconstruction have disappeared. Not only are huge sums unaccounted for, but they may be even bigger than first thought.
Now the speaker of the Iraqi parliament Osama al-Nujaifi has said the money unaccounted for by the US is $18.7bn - three times more than the reported $6.6bn. Just before leaving on a flight to Washington, al Nujaifi said he had received a report this week based on information from US and Iraqi auditors that the amount of money withdrawn from a fund for Iraqi oil proceeds but unaccounted for was much more than the $6.6 billion reported.
"There is a lot of money missing during the first American administration of Iraqi money in the first year of occupation, " the Iraqi parliamentarian told al Jazeera. "Iraq's development fund has lost around $18bn of Iraqi money in these operations - their location is unknown. Also missing are the documents of expenditure. "I think it will be discussed soon. There should be an answer to where has Iraqi money gone."
The Bush administration flew in a total of $20bn in cash into the country in 2004. According to a Guardian report, "Roughly 20 cash-carrying flights took off for Iraq from the US in the months before May 2004 delivering more than $12bn. Once on Iraqi soil, the haul was stored in a former Saddam Hussein palace and in US military camps. Thereafter it was usually stuffed into sacks, piled into the backs of open pick-up trucks before being distributed to beneficiaries. "
This was money that had come from Iraqi oil sales, surplus funds from the UN oil-for-food programme and seized Iraqi assets. Officials in Iraq were supposed to give out the money to Iraqi ministries and US contractors, intended for the reconstruction of the country.
The Los Angeles Times reported last week that Iraqi officials argue that the US government was supposed to safeguard the stash under a 2004 legal agreement it signed with Iraq, hence making Washington responsible for the cash that has disappeared.
The US has audited the money three times, but has still not been able to say exactly where it went. Pentagon officials have contended for the last six years that they could account for the money if given enough time to track down the records.
BILLIONS of pounds earmarked for rebuilding Afghanistan have been wasted on overpaid consultants and corporate profits, a damning report claims.
It says £5 billion of promised funds has never materialised - while £3 billion of the £7.5 billion actually spent has found its way back to wealthy donor countries rather than helping the Afghan economy.
This has happened through a mix of "high levels of corruption", bumper company profits of up to 50 per cent and the vast earnings potential of foreign consultants, who can take home up to £250,000 a year as a result of hardship payments and "danger money".
Some £5 billion of promised aid is still with foreign governments, apparently because of delays in reconstruction on the ground, corruption and the inability of the Afghan government to keep tabs on the vast sums of cash.
Five American companies are named as having scooped the lion's share of their country's cash - with huge sums eaten up by an opaque web of sub-contractors.
The consultants' six-figure salaries are in shocking contrast to the millions of Afghans who live in extreme poverty. About half of the 27 million population are thought to live on 50p a day, and one in five children dies before his or her fifth birthday.
Last night, opposition politicians in Britain said the discrepancy between the aid pledged and delivered was "staggering", and there was a "real danger" of failing Afghanistan's desperately poor population.