NEW YORK (Reuters) -- U.S. officials looking into irregularities in the early portion of the $125 billion U.S.-led effort to rebuild Iraq have expanded the inquiry to include senior U.S. military officers who oversaw the program, "The New York Times" has reported on its website.
Citing senior government officials with whom it conducted interviews, as well as court documents, the "Times" reported that investigators had subpoenaed the personal bank records of a colonel, now retired, in charge of reconstruction contracting in Iraq in 2003 and 2004, when the operation expanded greatly in scope to repair Iraq's infrastructure.
Investigators were also examining the activities of an Air Force lieutenant colonel who was a senior contracting officer in Baghdad in 2004, the "Times" said citing two federal officials involved in the inquiry.
Both men, who worked in a civilian contracting office, said they had nothing to hide from investigators, and the newspaper said it was still unclear what evidence there might be against them. But officials told the "Times" several criminal cases in recent years pointed to widespread corruption within the operation run by the men being investigated.
Part of the inquiry focuses on information given to them by Dale Stoffel, a U.S. arms dealer and contractor who was shot dead on a road north of Baghdad in 2004, the "Times" said.
Before he died, Stoffel "drew a portrait worthy of a pulp crime novel," the "Times" reporters wrote, citing two senior federal officials: "Tens of thousands of dollars stuffed into pizza boxes and delivered surreptitiously to the American contracting offices in Baghdad, and payoffs made in paper sacks that were scattered in 'dead drops' around the Green Zone."
Stoffel provided information about the offices where the two officers worked and was deemed sufficiently credible that he received immunity in exchange for information, according to government documents obtained by the Times as well as interviews with Stoffel's attorney.
The investigation is also meant to ascertain whether there were connections between mid-level officials who have already been prosecuted and higher-level officials, the Times said.
"These long-running investigations" being conducted by the Special Inspector-General for Iraq Reconstruction, as well as the Justice Department, the Army's Criminal Investigation Command and other federal agencies, "continue to mature and expand, embracing a wider array of potential suspects," the newspaper reported, quoting a federal investigator.
The inquiries cover a time when millions of dollars in cash were dispensed from a loosely guarded safe in the basement of one of Saddam Hussein's palaces, the "Times" said.
The Air Force referred questions to the Army's Criminal Investigation Command. Spokesman Christopher Grey said the command "does not discuss or confirm the names of persons who may or may not be under investigation," according to the "Times."
A Pentagon media officer said on February 14 he was unaware of the "Times" story and had no comment.