A secretive defense contractor that is at the center of a congressional investigation of a $1.4 billion contract to supply aviation fuel at the U.S. air base in Kyrgyzstan has hired a powerhouse D.C. lobbying team that includes Dana Perino and others from the Bush White House.
Congress wants to know whether the sole-source, classified contracts awarded to Mina Corp., Ltd., and Red Star Enterprises Ltd., were a vehicle for the U.S. government to deliver payoffs to the family of Kyrgyzstan leaders who were ousted amid charges of corruption linked to the Manas air base.
Mina Corp.’s fuel contract, awarded last year, is worth up to $730.9 million over three years for services at the Manas, the only U.S. airbase in Central Asia outside of Afghanistan.
Kyrgyzstan has also opened its own investigation, prompting the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek to say that the contract was issued in accordance with U.S. and local laws. Mina Corp has told both governments that it has never directed U.S. government funds to Kyrgyz officials.
As Congress turned up the heat on Mina and Red Star in July, the companies sent Washington lobbyists to the Hill to plead their case.
Senate lobbying disclosure forms show that on July 12 Mina Corp. hired public affairs firm Hamilton Place Strategies LLC to lobby Congress and the Defense Department.
Senate filings show the Hamilton Place team includes Perino, now a Fox News political commentator, W. Taylor Griffin, a spokesman for the McCain/Palin campaign who handled the “Troopergate” affair, and Tony Fratto, who spoke for the president on issues including intelligence matters, terrorist financing and financial crimes.
Also joining the Mina Corp. team this month were McLean, Virginia-based Dudinsky, Lisker & Associates, which says it is “monitoring and reporting Congressional activity” on behalf of Mina.” Principal Joel Lisker is a former FBI agent who headed the Justice Department’s foreign agent registration unit in the Carter years. His investigation led the president’s brother, Billy, to register as a foreign agent for Libya.
Barbour, Griffith & Rogers’ Ed Rogers, a Reagan and Bush I White House veteran, and Morris Reid, registered July 20 as lobbyists for Mina to handle a House investigation regarding Department of Defense contracts to provide jet fuel to U.S. military base in Bagham, Afghanistan.
Jeff Stein at The Washington Post’s SpyTalk blog reported last wek that after weeks of tense negotiations, a House oversight subcommittee has gotten promises of cooperation from Mina and Red Star.
“The heart of the investigation,” a source told Stein, “is why Red Star and Mina Corp. were not investigated under” the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which forbids U.S. companies from paying bribes or kickbacks to foreign officials.”
Mina Corp. has also hired the D.C. law firm, Weil, Gotschal and Manges LLP. The Weil team includes partner William Burck, who served in the Bush White House Counsel’s office. Burck specializes in FCPA investigations among other things, according to his law firm biography.
In a press release announcing last week’s agreement between Mina, Red Star and the National Security and Foreign Affairs Subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Burck said maintaining his client’s secrecy was a key to the deal.
“We’ve worked closely with staff to make sure the Subcommittee obtains the information it seeks while preserving the confidentiality of the companies’ operations and the privacy of its personnel. Confidentiality is essential to permit the companies to meet the U.S. military’s needs in volatile areas of the world and supply vital fuel to our troops in the field.”
Burck and Perino have a close working relationship. They have penned regular columns critical of the Obama administration for National Review Online.
The Senate lobbying forms also raise fresh questions about who or what is behind Mina and Red Star.
The Defense Department has identified to Mina and Red Star Enterprises as companies based in Gibraltar. Mina Corp. was registered in London in 2003, records show.
The Senate lobbying disclosures identify Mina as a Dubai firm affiliated with “Mina Petroleum FZE” with an office in the Dubai Airport Free Zone. Companies operating within the free zone are treated as offshore, outside the United Arab Emirates.
Adding to the confusion, Mina’s webserver, minacorp.com, is registered in Vernier, Switzerland.