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Last Updated: Friday, 2 December 2005, 13:05 GMT
US reservist on Iraq scam charges
Child walking through Baghdad slum
The post-war reconstruction effort has been heavily criticised
A US army officer has been charged over an alleged money-laundering, bribery and fraud scheme in post-war Iraq.

Army Reserve Lt Col Michael Wheeler is accused of stealing funds meant for reconstruction projects and accepting money and gifts to rig contracts.

He was responsible for developing contracts and soliciting bids for the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq's Hilla region from 2003-4.

He is expected to plead not guilty, his lawyer was quoted as saying.

Bruce Rosen, quoted by the Boston Globe newspaper, said Lt Col Wheeler had been released from custody and was expected to deny the charges in court.

The 47-year-old officer from Wisconsin was arrested on Wednesday, the US Justice Department said.

Two other people were arrested on similar charges last month.

According to court papers, he and his co-conspirators are accused of accepting money and gifts in exchange for awarding reconstruction contracts.

Firearms accusation

Lt Col Wheeler is also accused of stealing and laundering money from the CPA while on active duty for the authority's South Central Region.

He and his fellow suspects are accused of using CPA funds to buy dozens of firearms and military-grade hardware for their own use.

An affidavit filed in the US district court says he transported $100,000 back from Iraq to Fort Bragg, North Carolina; spending $58,000 of it on a "variety of high-end tools".

If convicted, Lt Col Wheeler could face up to 30 years in prison.

Last month, Robert Stein, civilian financing officer for the South Central Region in Iraq at the time of the alleged fraud, and Philip Bloom, a contractor for the CPA, were arrested on similar charges.

The US-led administration which governed Iraq between April 2003 and May 2004 was beset by allegations of corruption and political favouritism in contract awards.

Financial auditors said in May that there was no record of how $100m in funding for reconstruction projects since 2003 had been spent.




SEE ALSO:
Fraud charge for Iraqi contractor
17 Nov 05 |  Business
'$100m gap' in US Iraq spending
05 May 05 |  Middle East
Iraq 'facing corruption threat'
16 Mar 05 |  Business
Iraq agency 'run like Wild West'
15 Feb 05 |  Americas


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