WASHINGTON – The U.S. ambassador to Albania allegedly approved removing evidence of the illegal Chinese origins of ammunition being shipped from Albania to Afghanistan by a U.S. defense contractor, a senior House Democrat said Monday.
In a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said the State Department then attempted to conceal that information from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which he chairs.
Waxman's allegation comes three days after the contractor's president, a 22-year-old Miami Beach man named Efraim Diveroli, and three others were charged in federal court with providing the prohibited ammunition to be used by Afghan army and police forces. Diveroli's company, AEY Inc., was paid more than $10 million through a U.S. government contract for 35 shipments of ammunition that prosecutors say was manufactured in China.
Prosecutors contend AEY Inc. removed markings from containers to hide the fact they were manufactured in China. Diveroli certified that the ammunition was manufactured in Albania and submitted an invoice for it, they said.
AEY Inc.'s contract required it to certify that it was providing serviceable and safe ammunition. The contract also barred delivery of ammunition acquired, directly or indirectly, from a Chinese company.
In his 10-page letter to Rice, Waxman says John L. Withers II, the U.S. ambassador to Albania, met with Albanian Defense Minister Fatmir Mediu in November 2007 to discuss how to respond to inquiries from The New York Times. The newspaper was investigating AEY Inc. and one of its reporters wanted to visit a site in Albania where AEY was taking Chinese ammunition from its original packaging.
Army Maj. Larry Harrison, chief of the office of defense cooperation at the embassy, attended the meeting, according to an interview the officer had with committee staff earlier this month. Mediu, who has since resigned his position, was concerned a story about AEY would reveal allegations of corruption against him.
The meeting lasted well into the night. Mediu ordered the Chinese markings be removed before the visit. According to Harrison, Withers agreed "that this would alleviate the suspicion of wrongdoing."
Harrison told the committee he was "very uncomfortable" with the discussions because there was an ongoing criminal investigation of AEY. He recommended the reporter not be allowed to see the site. That advice was not accepted, Waxman said.
There was no immediate comment from the State Department on Waxman's letter.
In late March, after The New York Times published its article on AEY Inc., Waxman's staff asked the State Department for a wide range of documents about the company, its transactions, and any interactions it had with U.S. Embassy officials in Albania. In the department's response there was no description of the November 2007 meeting.
According to Waxman's letter, Harrison had urged U.S. embassy officials to tell the committee about the meeting. He was overruled, however.
Waxman wants to interview Withers and other U.S. officials at the embassy in Albania.