Monday, August 13, 2007


First Kuwaiti denies forcing Filipino workers to go to Iraq

(AP) -A Kuwaiti contracting firm denied allegations it took Filipino workers to Iraq without their knowledge to build the new U.S. Embassy there, and threatened Sunday to pursue those who made the claim. The company's denial came days after the Philippines sent a special envoy to this small oil-rich state to investigate accusations that 51 Filipinos were recruited to work in Dubai but taken to Baghdad instead without their consent.
The First Kuwaiti General Trading and Contracting Co. ran advertisements in five leading newspapers Sunday to deny any wrongdoing. "The workers willingly agreed to work in Iraq before their departure and before they arrived at the site of the embassy" in Baghdad, the construction firm said. It was the company's first public comment since a U.S. Congressional probe into the accusations last month. Two former employees of the Kuwaiti firm, John Owens and Roy J. Mayberry, testified that the foreign workers were mistreated.
Mayberry, a medical technician, said there were 51 Filipinos on his flight to Baghdad and that all their tickets, as well as his own, said they were going to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Mayberry said a First Kuwaiti manager told him not to tell the Filipinos they were being taken to Baghdad. "They had no idea they were being sent to do construction work on the U.S. Embassy," Mayberry said, adding he believed the men were "kidnapped."
The Philippines has banned its citizens from working in war-torn Iraq since July 2004, but up to 7,000 Filipinos remain there. The Philippines' Department of Labor has reported that only 11 Filipinos were on that flight to Baghdad, with the rest of the workers coming from other countries. In its ad Sunday, the Kuwaiti firm also said there were only 11 Filipinos on the flight.
The advertisement threatened of legal action for libel, citing "former American employees whose services had been terminated." Company officials could not be immediately reached for further comment. First Kuwaiti's ad said the U.S. State Department and coalition forces in Iraq have investigated the allegations and made surprise visits to the embassy construction site in the high-security Green Zone in Baghdad. The firm said U.S. authorities had found the accusations to be "untrue."
Howard Krongard, Inspector General of the U.S. State Department, last month dismissed allegations that foreign workers were mistreated in building the new complex in Baghdad. But he acknowledged that some recruiters may have misled foreign workers about pay expectations and living conditions. First Kuwaiti said it has successfully completed more than 200 contracts with the U.S. government in Kuwait and Iraq. "We will defend these achievements and pursue all those who caused damage to the company's reputation," the ad said without elaborating.
State Department officials say the embassy in Baghdad will be completed by September and will cost about $592 million. The 104-acre compound will be the largest embassy in the world and a symbol of U.S. commitment to Iraq. There will be working space for about 1,000 people.

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