WASHINGTON — A Marine in Iraq sent home $43,000 in stolen cash by hiding it in a footlocker among American flags. A soldier shipped thousands more concealed in a toy stuffed animal. An embassy employee tricked the State Department into wiring $240,000 into his foreign bank account.
As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, the number of people indicted and convicted by the U.S. for bribery, theft and other reconstruction-related crimes in both countries is rapidly rising, according to two government reports released Sunday.
“This is a boom industry for us,” Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, said in an interview.
“Investigators and auditors had a productive quarter,” said a report on the theft of Afghanistan aid by Steven Trent, who holds the same job for Afghanistan. His report covered August through October.
In the past 13 months U.S. investigators in Iraq secured the indictments of 22 people for alleged aid-related offenses, bringing to 69 the total since the SIGIR office was created in 2004. Convictions stand at 57. Several hundred more suspects are under scrutiny in 102 open investigations and those numbers are expected to climb.
The rise in caseloads derives partly from spinoff investigations, where suspects facing prosecution lead investigators to other suspects, said Jon Novak, SIGIR’s assistant inspector general for investigations.
As investigators gain experience, they’re received better information from a growing network of sources in Iraq, said Dan Willkens, Novak’s deputy. Development of an automated data-mining system for investigations has helped, he said, as did a decision two years ago to speed prosecutions by hiring three former assistant U.S. attorneys and detailing them to the Department of Justice.