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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 April, 2003, 14:14 GMT 15:14 UK
Bechtel's long game in the Gulf
Burning oil wells in Kuwait
The last Gulf conflict was also a source of good business for Bechtel
Bechtel executives are fond of telling how, after the company put in Jeddah's electrification system, the city's residents referred to "switching on the bechtel".

In a whirlwind of activity in the late 1940s, the company also built Saudi Arabia's first commercial ports and airports, its first oil refinery and oil export pipeline.

So central a role did Bechtel have in the physical transformation of the fledgling Saudi state that it was viewed as being quite as well-entrenched as the company in charge of the oil.

Today, the US oil majors are mostly gone from the Gulf region - pushed out by nationalisation - but San Francisco-based Bechtel remains heavily involved.

Bechtel's contract covers repair work on power generation facilities, electrical grids, municipal water systems and sewage systems

It is no surprise that the company has now been contracted to oversee a large chunk of the Iraqi reconstruction programme.

Troubleshooter

Last time the Gulf faced serious political upheaval, Bechtel also won valuable work, leading efforts to put out hundreds of burning Kuwaiti oil wells and clean up areas damaged by oil spills.

Since then, Bechtel's Middle East projects have included developing a 500,000-barrel-a-day oil production centre in the Empty Quarter desert and building substantial sections of the Trans-Turkish Motorway, helping slash travel times between Istanbul and Ankara.

BECHTEL
Founded 1898
Privately owned by Bechtel family
47,000 employees
Turnover $13.4bn (2001)
Projects in 67 countries

The local contractors with which Bechtel worked on those landmark projects - the Arab-owned, Athens-based Consolidated Contractors International Company and Turkey's Enka - might reasonably expect to be well-placed for Bechtel subcontracts in Iraq.

Bechtel's Iraq experience runs from the 1950s until the 1991 Gulf war when the company had to suspend work building a petrochemicals complex 60 miles south of Baghdad.

In the UK, Bechtel has gained a reputation as a reliable troubleshooter, rescuing bogged-down and behind-schedule projects - though, critics have complained, at vast expense to the taxpayer.

The Jubilee Line extension to the London Underground did open in time to ferry guests to the Dome's millennium party.

More recently, the company has taken over responsibility for completing the multi-billion pound Channel Tunnel Rail Link - Britain's first major new rail link for a century.

Shrouded

As was the case with the other bidders for the Iraq contract - all big US corporations - Bechtel has been under fire for its political connections and donations.

George Shultz, secretary of state in Ronald Reagan's administration, is on the company's board, while chief executive Riley Bechtel recently joined several other corporate big hitters on President Bush's export council - the White House's trade advisory panel.

MAJOR PROJECTS (1990-present)
Putting out Kuwait oil fires
Channel Tunnel
Hong Kong international airport
Channel Tunnel rail link

High-profile in its works, Bechtel's finances are nevertheless shrouded in secrecy - as a privately owned company it is not required to publish financial statements and any discussions among shareholders over the way it does business are conducted behind closed doors.




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