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The Washington Post, February 9, 2011

Afghan government accuses 16 security firms of violations

In addition, seven security firms with connections to high-ranking Afghan officials are expected to be ordered this week to disband

By Joshua Paltrow

KABUL - An Afghan government probe of private security companies has accused 16 firms of violations that include employing too many guards, failing to pay taxes for up to two years, and keeping unregistered weapons and armored vehicles.

G4s and Blue Hackles two security firms in Afghanistan accused of violations
The Washington Post, Feb. 9, 2011: The investigation found, for example, that the British firm G4S - the parent company of ArmorGroup North America, which provides security for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul - employed 1,358 guards more than allowed, kept 27 illegal "bullet-proof" vehicles and used embassy vehicles for off-base, non-diplomatic purposes, according to a copy of the violation list. Other, slightly different lists of violations also have been circulating in Kabul. Another company, Washington-based Blue Hackle, is alleged to have employed 1,257 guards more than permitted and kept 385 unregistered weapons and "would not reveal the location" of its armory, the document said.

The allegations, contained in a list being circulated in Kabul, represent the most detail to date about the government's case against several prominent U.S. and British security firms in Afghanistan. The government has moved away from threatening to disband these firms, which it considers "major" violators, and appears intent on imposing fines.

In addition, seven security firms with connections to high-ranking Afghan officials are expected to be ordered this week to disband, Afghan officials said.

The allegations detailed in the list, which was obtained by The Washington Post, are disputed by company representatives, who view the investigation as further evidence of President Hamid Karzai's push to eventually replace them with government guards.

Since August, Karzai has called for phasing out the thousands of private security guards working in Afghanistan, whom he describes as "thieves by day, terrorists by night." The firms say their departure could derail foreign-funded development projects as well as security provided for NATO convoys, embassies and military bases.

The investigation found, for example, that the British firm G4S - the parent company of ArmorGroup North America, which provides security for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul - employed 1,358 guards more than allowed, kept 27 illegal "bullet-proof" vehicles and used embassy vehicles for off-base, non-diplomatic purposes, according to a copy of the violation list. Other, slightly different lists of violations also have been circulating in Kabul.

Another company, Washington-based Blue Hackle, is alleged to have employed 1,257 guards more than permitted, kept 385 unregistered weapons and "would not reveal the location" of its armory, the document said. Blue Hackle guards Camp Eggers, a NATO military base in Kabul, and has contracts with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and others.

Half of the companies on the list were accused of failure to pay taxes. Others were cited with failure to pay insurance to the families of slain guards. The list also accused one firm of killing an Afghan driver and burning his vehicle. It said another firm killed four people and wounded four, and did not report the casualties as it should have.

"We have heard literally almost every different type of allegation," said one security company official, who along with other sources spoke on the condition of anonymity so as not to jeopardize their business in Afghanistan. "If you do put the U.K. and U.S. governments' protective security providers on your [violators] lists, it's going to make it very difficult to operate here."

A spokesman for G4S, Patrick Toyne-Sewell, said that the company has not received any official notification from the Afghan government about the alleged violations and that "we do not comment on speculation."

The president of Blue Hackle North America, Tony Koren, said his company does not have an armory in Afghanistan and has registered all its weapons. Although the Afghan government once had established a 500-person cap for private security companies, Koren said, an exemption included those guards who worked on U.S. government contracts.

"The 500 cap, up until a couple of months ago, was just not an issue," Koren said. "Everybody knew the major companies exceeded that."

The Afghan government does not plan to order the 16 companies to disband in the near term but rather will levy fines based on the severity of the violations, said Syed Abdul Ghafar Sayidzada, the head of the Interior Ministry's anti-terrorism department.

"We're not going to disband them all because they're providing security for coalition bases, foreign organizations and foreign embassies," he said. "But they will be fined. Once the Afghan security forces improve their capacity and ability to provide security, they will be disbanded."

Sayidzada said seven other private security companies - including Watan Risk Management, run by two brothers who are distant cousins of Karzai, and NCL, associated with the son of Defense Minister Rahim Wardak - will receive disbandment orders in the "next couple of days" over connections to high-ranking Afghan officials.

The head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Rajiv Shah, is in Kabul this week and is expected to raise the private-security issue with Karzai, Western officials said.

In a recent meeting with Karzai and U.S. Embassy officials, Afghan officials conceded that government guards were not yet ready to take over for private firms and said that they would present a report to Karzai by mid-May on the future of private security companies in Afghanistan, a NATO official said.

The companies, meanwhile, have been meeting with Afghan and U.S. officials regularly to determine how to continue working in the country.

"It's the crisis du jour," said Koren, the Blue Hackle president. "And we just have to live with it."

Category: Corruption - Views: 7826