Iraq war hero Tim Collins faces US fraud probe into Afghan training costs
A defence contractor run by Northern Ireland's best-known modern military figure is under criminal investigation by the US government's watchdog against fraud and waste in Afghanistan.
Colonel Tim Collins OBE - who is best known for delivering a powerful speech to his men on the eve of the Iraq war - is facing questions over a €160 million US contract to train Afghan security forces in counterinsurgency.
His firm, New Century Consulting, is the subcontractor in a Pentagon contract held by the US company Jorge Scientific, now known as Imperatis.
A financial audit of Imperatis, carried out on behalf of the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (Sigar), identified €118 million "unsupported" and "questioned" costs paid to New Century, to which most of the work was subcontracted.
Sigar has the job of overseeing reconstruction projects and activities, conducting audits and investigations to "promote efficiency" and "detect and prevent waste, fraud, and abuse".
Last night, the US federal agency said it had an ongoing criminal investigation involving both New Century and Imperatis.
"This is a classic example of a prime contractor not knowing how its subcontractors are spending hard-earned American taxpayer dollars," John F Sopko, head of Sigar.
Both New Century and Imperatis deny any wrongdoing and disagree with the findings of the audit, which include concerns about the €118 million in "unsupported" costs.
Under the contract, New Century sent counterinsurgency advisers, many of them British, to Afghanistan, to run what amounts to an intelligence mentoring and training programme for the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF).
The aim is to take tactics developed and used during the Troubles in Northern Ireland and apply them in Afghanistan, to help the country's soldiers and police recruit and use informants from within the Taliban.
Yesterday, Col Collins said: "New Century was the subcontractor to Legacy East. Apart from that we have no privileged access to the matter mentioned nor have we been approached by the US government to assist or comment on the matter."
Adding: "New Century has no knowledge of the criminal investigation which you allege."
Colonel Tim Collins is a charismatic figure best known for an inspirational speech given to the troops under his command shortly before the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Speaking to 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment, he said: "We go to liberate, not to conquer," and told his troops: "If you are ferocious in battle remember to be magnanimous in victory."
He went on to say: "The enemy should be in no doubt that we are his nemesis and that we are bringing about his rightful destruction."
A copy of the speech is said to have hung in the White House's Oval Office.
Col Collins said he was unaware of any criminal investigation, and added: "Sigar's concerns are not with my company."
Referring to the Northern Irish sub-contractor, a Sigar spokesperson said: "Sigar has an ongoing investigation of the company" and that the investigation began before the audit was carried out. When pressed for details, they said: "The investigation is criminal in nature", but would not elaborate.It is not known whether the investigation is connected to the issues raised in the recent audit. The investigation "is related to both companies", said the spokesperson.
Auditors tasked by Sigar examined €160 million in expenditure between October 2011 and March 2014 and found that Imperatis "did not retain sufficient supporting documentation for a subcontractor's [New Century Consulting] costs."
This amounted to €118 million in "questioned costs" - part of an overall total of €122 million of unsupported costs racked up by Imperatis over its "Legacy East" contract with the Pentagon.
Sigar recommended that US Army Contracting Command should "determine the allowability of and recover, as appropriate, $134 million (€122m) in questioned costs identified in the report".
Its auditors warned of "material weakness and non-compliance" over the documentation held by Imperatis of New Century's costs and said that "the government may have been charged for costs that were unallowable to the Legacy East project".
Last week it emerged that US Department of Defence was unable to provide financial data on €814 million spent on emergency reconstruction and humanitarian projects over the past decade.