A North Carolina congressman is calling for a probe into a potential $418 million contract between Kenya and a major U.S. defense contractor announced on President Obama's last day in office -- a deal the lawmaker claims reeks of cronyism.
Republican Rep. Ted Budd wants the Government Accountability Office to investigate a deal between the African nation and New York-based L3 Technologies for the sale of 12 weaponized border patrol planes. He said he wants to know why a veteran-owned small company in North Carolina – which specializes in making such planes – was not considered as the manufacturer.
IOMAX USA Inc., based in Mooresville and founded by a U.S. Army veteran, offered to build Kenya the weaponized planes for roughly $281 million – far cheaper than what its competitor, L3, is selling them for.
"Something smells wrong here," Budd told Fox News. "The U.S. Air Force bypassed IOMAX, which has 50 of these planes already in service in the Middle East."
"They were given a raw deal," Budd said of Kenya, which had requested from the U.S. 12 weaponized planes in its fight against terrorist group Al-Shabaab near its northern border.
"We want to treat our allies like Kenya fairly," he said. "And we want to know why IOMAX was not considered."
A State Department spokesman did not respond to a request for comment about the deal.
A source with knowledge of the negotiations told Fox News the program was in development with the State Department for at least a year and its announcement on Obama's last day in office was "pure coincidence."
L3, meanwhile, strongly dismissed any claim of favoritism in its deal with Kenya -- which was approved by the State Department, not the White House -- and pushed back on reports it has never built such aircraft.
"Any allegations questioning L3’s experience producing this equipment or the 'fairness' of the process are misinformed or being intentionally perpetuated for competitive reasons," the company said in a statement to Fox News.
"L3 recently received approval from the U.S. State Department for a possible sale to Kenya of aircraft and related support, including Air Tractor AT-802L planes," the big contractor said. "L3 has delivered multiple missionized Air Tractor aircraft, which were similar to our offering to Kenya and have been fully certified for airworthiness by both FAA Supplemental Type Certificate and U.S. Air Force military type certification."
"L3 is the only company with an aircraft that has these certifications," L3 said.
But Ron Howard, the U.S. Army veteran who started IOMAX in 2001, said, "We're the only ones" making the specific weaponized planes that Kenya has requested.
IOMAX's factory in Albany, Ga., modifies crop dusters into planes fortified with such weapons as Hellfire missiles as well as surveillance equipment. The weaponized plane is called the Archangel, Howard said, and can shoot or bomb with great precision from 20,000 feet.
"The airplane is especially designed to be quiet and can’t be heard," Howard told Fox News. He said IOMAX has many already operating in the Middle East -- purchased by the United Arab Emirates and dispersed to other countries in the region, such as Jordan and Egypt.
IOMAX has 208 employees, half of whom are U.S. veterans, Howard said.
In February, Robert Godec, U.S. ambassador to Kenya, said, "The U.S. military sales process requires notification of the U.S. Congress and allows oversight committees and commercial competitors the opportunity to review the entire package before it is offered to a potential buyer."
Godec said the Kenyan government has not signed any agreement to purchase aircraft from the U.S. and called the process underway "transparent, open, and proper."
"This potential military sale would be carried out wholly in keeping with appropriate laws and regulations," he said. "The United States stands with Kenya in the fight against terrorism."