A lengthy investigation published Thursday reveals that the Pentagon gave an inexperienced 22-year-old a $300 million contract to provide ammunition to Afghanistan. The shady deal resulted in decades old, substandard munitions being delivered to US and Afghan troops fighting on the front lines of the war on terror.
Following publication of a lengthy New York Times article, the House Oversight Committee announced it would investigate AEY Inc., a fledgling company that thrived after 2003 as the US government began handing out billions of dollars to private defense contractors. Chairman Henry Waxman invited company officials as well as representatives of the State and Defense departments to testify at a hearing next month, according to a news release.
But to arm the Afghan forces that it hopes will lead this fight, the American military has relied since early last year on a fledgling company led by a 22-year-old man whose vice president was a licensed masseur.
With the award last January of a federal contract worth as much as nearly $300 million, the company, AEY Inc., which operates out of an unmarked office in Miami Beach, became the main supplier of munitions to Afghanistan’s army and police forces.
Since then, the company has provided ammunition that is more than 40 years old and in decomposing packaging, according to an examination of the munitions by The New York Times and interviews with American and Afghan officials. Much of the ammunition comes from the aging stockpiles of the old Communist bloc, including stockpiles that the State Department and NATO have determined to be unreliable and obsolete, and have spent millions of dollars to have destroyed.
In purchasing munitions, the contractor has also worked with middlemen and a shell company on a federal list of entities suspected of illegal arms trafficking.
The company's president was 22-year-old Efraim E. Diveroli, who ran the company with a 25-year-old from Miami Beach, Florida. Waxman has requested that Diveroli testify, along with company vice president David M. Packouz and Levi Meyer its general manager.
On his MySpace page, Diveroli claims that "problems in high school" forced him to work through most of his teenage years, but that "of course im (sic) a super nice guy!!!"
"I finally got a decent apartment and im (sic) content for the moment," he writes on the page, "however i (sic) definately (sic) have the desire to be very successful in my business and this does take up alot (sic) of my time.
After the Times began asking questions about the suspicious contract, the Army suspended the company from future contract efforts. The Associated Press confirms that the company's contracts have been suspended because it shipped Chinese-made ammunition "in violation of its contract and US law."
When asked about the report, a woman who answered the phone at the number listed told RAW STORY, "I'm sorry, I'm not at liberty to comment on that. Have a nice day." She immediately hung up.
Ammo provided by AEY included some manufactured in China more than 40 years ago, and other munitions provided by the company were in such bad shape, the Army decided not to use it, according to the Times.
Diveroli apparently had little experience in arms procurement, and the Times article suggests his dealings with the Albanian government were corrupt. An audio recording of Diveroli, mentioned in the article, was discovered on this YouTube site apparently based in Hong Kong. A transcript is available here.
The company and the Army would not divulge where the ammunition AEY provided came from, but the Times reports that interviews and records from several sources show the company "shopped from stocks in the old Eastern bloc, including Albania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Montenegro, Romania and Slovakia."
In the audio recording, Diveroli is speaking to Kosta Trebicka, an Albanian businessman, about Ylli Pinari, director of an Albanian agency in charge of arms exports.
Diveroli says he "can't play monkey business with the mafia ... and all those fucking guys in Albania" because his contract is with the US government and "everyone is watching me."
Trebicka, who was acting as a middle man for the deal, said "Pinari and his mafia guys ... will create lots of problems," but he tried to calm the young AEY president.
"Probably I will be invited in Washington DC from the CIA guys and from my friends over there," Trebicka tells Diveroli in the conversation recorded June 11, 2007. "Two weeks from now I will come to Florida to shake hands with you and discuss future deals."
Diveroli stresses to Trebicka the need to push a Pinari to go through with a a sale of material, according to the recording.
"Call him up, beg him, kiss him, whatever..." Diveroli tells his Albanian contact. "Send one of your girls to fuck him... Let's get him happy. Maybe he gives you one more chance to do the job. No?"
The Times says Diveroli was entering a shady and lightly regulated world.
The international arms business operates partly in the light and partly in shadows, and is littered with short-lived shell companies, middlemen and official corruption. Governments have tried to regulate it more closely for years, with limited success.
As Mr. Diveroli began to fill the Army’s huge orders, he was entering a shadowy world, and in his brief interview he suggested that he was aware that corruption could intrude on his dealings in Albania. “What goes on in the Albanian Ministry of Defense?” he said. “Who’s clean? Who’s dirty? Don’t want to know about it.”
The way AEY’s business was structured, Mr. Diveroli, at least officially, did not deal directly with Albanian officials. Instead, a middleman company registered in Cyprus, Evdin Ltd., bought the ammunition and sold it to his company.
The local packager involved in the deal, Mr. Trebicka, said that he suspected that Evdin’s purpose was to divert money to Albanian officials.
Albanian political observers say the Times story just begins to scratch the surface of corruption there.
"There is more to this story," writes Gary Q. Kokalari, a political analyst, reacting to the Times article. "Stay tuned."