| ||Excluded co-owner keeps ties to Pentagon firm|
By Tom Vanden Brook
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WASHINGTON - The co-owner of the Pentagon’s top propaganda contractor in Afghanistan continues to receive payments from the company despite the Army’s effort to exclude him from receiving government contracts.
Camille Chidiac, who owns 49 percent of Leonie Industries, was placed on the government’s “excluded parties list” after admitting his role in an online smear campaign against two journalists from USA TODAY.
U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican who chairs the House oversight committee’s panel on national security, called Chidiac’s continued relationship with the company and the Pentagon unacceptable.
“The excluded parties list has shown no teeth,” Chaffetz said. “There should be a penalty for violating the very trust that’s needed to execute on these contracts.”
The military recently agreed to retain Leonie’s services for $60 million over the next year.
Chaffetz said he would demand to know why the Pentagon continues to allow Chidiac to continue to profit from the contract.
“There should be real consequences,” Chaffetz said. “Sometimes I worry that the Pentagon is letting them do it with a wink and a nod.”
In May, after admitting to his role in the online smear campaign that included bogus websites, Chidiac announced that he would sell his share of the company. He had not done so as of Tuesday and continues to receive payments from it, said Gar Smith, a spokesman for the company.
Lt. Col. James Gregory, a Pentagon spokesman, acknowledged that Chidiac remains under investigation by the Pentagon and is prohibited from receiving government contracts. However, Gregory added that Chidiac does not direct Leonie’s daily operations, allowing the company to remain eligible for contracts.
“There have not been any indications that Leonie Industries directed, condoned or was aware of the actions of Mr. Chidiac with respect to the social network activities at issue,” Gregory said in a statement. “Accordingly, at this time there is no basis to attribute Mr. Chidiac’s conduct to the company or to initiate suspension or debarment proceedings against the company.”
The Pentagon’s inspector general has an ongoing criminal investigation of Leonie’s ownership prompted by a USA TODAY story about military propaganda programs, known as information operations. The Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, has initiated its own probe of those programs. They include radio and television broadcasts and leafleting aimed at getting Afghans to support their government.
In February, USA TODAY reported the military had spent hundreds of millions on such programs in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last decade and had trouble tracking their effectiveness.
Chidiac and Rema Dupont, his sister, had owed more than $4 million in back taxes despite receiving federal contracts of more than $120 million. A month later, they paid their taxes, according to documents.
Chaffetz has introduced legislation that would bar contractors from receiving federal money if they fail to pay their taxes.