Mashuqur Rahman and Tazreena Sajjad
Published in New Age (June 2, 2007)
It was recently reported in the Bangladeshi press that a US security delegation that visited Bangladesh in March had asked President George W Bush to give Bangladesh ‘high priority’ as a strategic partner in US foreign and national security policies. Naturally, it raised some alarm bells among the concerned citizens. However, upon further investigations some interesting facts about Weldon and his interests have emerged and questions remain concerning his recent visit.
The US security delegation, it was reported, included ‘US Congressman Curt Weldon’. Weldon, however, is no longer a United States congressman. He was defeated in the November 2006 US congressional elections by the Democratic Party candidate Joe Sestak. According to press reports in the US, Weldon is currently under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for alleged corruption.
Weldon is currently the chief strategic officer of Defence Solutions Incorporated, a small privately-owned company headquartered in Pennsylvania that does defence-related contracting. Weldon began working for Defence Solutions in February 2007. Other members of the delegation that visited Bangladesh in March 2007 included Timothy Ringgold, chief executive officer of Defence Solutions, and Michael Kearney, a programme manager at Defence Solutions.
Defence Solutions is one of many small businesses that vie for contracts from the US government. Although the company was established in 2001, public federal procurement records show that it started to generate revenue from federal contracts in 2005. In the past two years, Defence Solutions has generated less than $1.9 million from US federal government contracts, mostly from the defence department. Defence Solutions also has offices in Israel and Hungary. According to the company’s website, from its Israeli office, Defence Solutions aims to introduce Israeli technologies and solutions to the US defence market. From its Hungary office, the company supports contracts related to the Iraq War. In 2005 Defence Solutions refurbished and delivered to the Iraqi Army seventy seven Soviet-made T-72 main battle tanks donated by Hungary. The Washington Times newspaper has referred to Defence Solutions as an international arms dealer.
Weldon did not visit Bangladesh as a US government official, but rather as a private citizen apparently lobbying to acquire business for his company. It was also reported in the Bangladeshi press that Weldon and his delegation belonged to the Global Alliance for Homeland Security. Information on GAHS is difficult to come by in the United States. What is known is that GAHS is a private organisation with ties to Bangladesh. While researching Weldon’s visit to Bangladesh, a writer at the American political blog TPMCafe.com located the company registration information for the organisation. It was registered as a non-profit organisation with New York State in late September of 2006.
GAHS gives as its mailing address an apartment in Woodside, Queens, New York. The same apartment is the mailing address for two other non-profit organizations called the American Bangladesh Friendship Society Incorporated and the American Bangladesh Friendship Club Incorporated. This apartment is also the mailing address of the Bangladeshi businessman listed in US government records as the president of the American Bangladesh Friendship Society. This Bangladeshi businessman, using the Woodside apartment as a mailing address, is also listed as the president of an organisation called World Human Rights and Development Incorporated which is registered in New York State. This last organisation, which boasts three members on its website, lists Weldon as a co-chairman.
Weldon is a controversial figure in the US. While he hailed Bangladesh government’s anti-corruption drive at Jatiya Press Club in March, Weldon himself remains under investigation in the US for alleged corruption. In October 2006 the Washington Post reported that a federal grand jury had been impanelled in Washington DC to determine whether Weldon had illegally used his political influence when he was Congressman to win lucrative contracts and favours for his family members. Weldon is under investigation for allegedly steering a lucrative contract from a Serbian businessman to his daughter. The Serbian businessman is barred from visiting or doing business with the United States because of his ties to former Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic. Weldon was allegedly trying to get the Serbian businessman off the US blacklist in the same year Weldon’s daughter received the lucrative business from the Serbian businessman’s family. Weldon is also under investigation for a consulting contract his daughter received from a Russian company, Itera, worth $170,000 in start up fee and $300,000 more in monthly retainer fees. Weldon has taken trips paid for by Itera and has advocated for Itera’s interests. As part of the investigation into alleged corruption by Weldon, FBI agents raided the homes of his daughter and one of his closest political supporters.
It is unclear how much influence Weldon still carries in Washington, given the ongoing investigation. He is also barred by ethics rules from directly lobbying the US Congress for one year after leaving office. It is also unclear who Weldon is lobbying for when, in his letter to President Bush, he calls for ‘enhanced military-to-military’ and ‘civilian-to-military’ programmes and visits. In his current capacity as the chief strategic officer of Defence Solutions Incorporated his primary responsibility is to lobby for and acquire business for his company.
Questions remain about the timing of Weldon’s visit, the motives of Defence Solutions and the nature of its relationship with the Global Alliance for Homeland Security. However, it should be clear that the delegation that visited Bangladesh in March did not represent the US government. Rather, it consisted primarily of senior management of the private company called Defence Solutions. The company, it seems, is interested in securing contracts from Bangladesh as well as the US. Defence Solutions does not represent the US government — it is one of thousands of companies that seek to do business with the government. Similarly, Weldon does not represent the US Congress. He is a former congressman who is now a private citizen working for a private company. Any other representation would be a misrepresentation of the facts.