American prosecutors have been making it a lot more difficult for people involved in reconstruction work in Iraq and Afghanistan to line their pockets and get away with it. Prosecutions for bribery, theft, and other crimes have risen sharply this year, according to two government reports. Those convicted include a former army captain who took more than a million dollars in kickbacks from contractors working on reconstruction projects in Afghanistan, and a Marine sergeant who sent $43,000 in stolen cash home in a footlocker among American flags.
Officials say experience and a growing network of informants is helping prosecutors crack down on the fraud, which is estimated to have cost the US and its allies as much as $60 billion in Iraq and Afghanistan. "This is open crime occurring in a war zone," the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction tells AP. "And the purpose of a lot of these expenditures is to win hearts and minds." When people see foreigners stealing cash that was supposed to help rebuild their country, "obviously we lose hearts and minds," he says.