x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

US army captain accused of fraud

The US$690,000 was intended for humanitarian and reconstruction work in Iraq.

A US army captain has been charged with stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars intended for humanitarian and reconstruction work in Iraq and spending the money on expensive cars and electronics. Capt Michael Dung Nguyen, 28, is accused of stealing more than US$690,000 (Dh2.5m) that was entrusted to him while he was stationed in Iraq between April 2007 and Feb 2009. He then posted bundles of $100 notes home to Oregon, the indictment alleges.

The money allegedly came from the Commander's Emergency Response Programme funds, set up to allow local commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan to carry out projects which would provide immediate assistance to local people and build trust in the community. On his return to the US last year, Capt Nguyen allegedly opened several bank accounts and deposited the stolen money in a way that was "intended to avoid detection", the US Department of Justice (DoJ) said.

He then attempted to launder the cash by buying cars and electronics including a BMW, a Hummer, computers and furniture, it said. Karin Immergut, the prosecuting lawyer, accused the soldier of "flagrant and reprehensible disregard" of army principles. "By stealing money intended to assist Iraqi citizens, Capt Nguyen betrayed his country and the fine men and women of our nation's armed services," she said.

Authorities were alerted after the discovery of large and frequent deposits in Capt Nguyen's account and purchases above his "legitimate income level", the DoJ said. He appeared in court on Thursday and pleaded not guilty to charges of theft of government property, money laundering and structuring financial transactions. He is due to stand trial in May. Each charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of $500,000.

This is the latest in a series of cases of misconduct levelled at US forces in Iraq, which include the abuse at Abu Ghraib prison that came to light in 2004. Last year an investigation by the BBC's Panorama programme estimated that around $23 billion may have been lost, stolen or just not properly accounted for in Iraq. lmorris@thenational.ae