A former employee of Irish charity Goal has pleaded guilty to bribery in a substantial bid-rigging case involving the charity’s aid programme in Syria.
In a plea hearing in Washington on Wednesday, Ernest Halilov — who worked as a logistics expert for Goal in Sudan and Syria — admitted paying bribes to employees of Goal and other NGOs.
Halilov, 42, a citizen of Turkmenistan, also admitted receiving more than $395,000 in kickbacks from aid contracts by Goal and two other NGOs between 2011 and 2016.
The bribery admissions form part of a plea agreement in which the US authorities have dropped charges of witness tampering — something Halilov nevertheless admitted at Wednesday’s hearing.
‘That’s accurate information, your honour,’ Halilov told US District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of the District of Columbia when she walked him through the detail of each allegation against him.
Following a lengthy investigation by the US Aid Office of Inspector General (OIG), Halilov was formally extradited to the US on December 5 and has been detained in Alexandria Detention Centre in Virginia ever since.
He appeared at Wednesday’s sitting via video link from detention. An employee of Goal from 2000 to 2014, Halilov occupied the role of Global Logistics Advisor from 2011 to 2014 before taking on a consulting role with the charity until his departure in 2016. As such he played a pivotal role in Goal’s response to the crisis in Syria.
The court heard how Halilov recruited two female Goal employees of Kenyan nationality to help him defraud aid contracts to Syria. One of these individuals later went on to work with two additional charities where she continued to aid Halilov’s bid-rigging schemes.
The Kenyan individuals were responsible for procurement and logistics at Turkish depots from which Goal sent aid into Syria.
Halilov’s bid-rigging scheme used a ring of Turkish-based firms in his control to which he provided confidential procurement information. This ensured his preferred firms had an unfair advantage as they secured Goal aid contracts.
‘Halilov was able to create the appearance of open competition by having the companies appear to be bidding against one another when in fact Halilov controlled all the companies bidding, thus ensuring that one of his companies would be the successful bidder,’ prosecutors told the court.
In return, Halilov admitted promising his co-conspirators payments worth between $250,000-$500,000. The court heard details of how the first of his co-conspirators – Goal’s then procurement officer for Syria – ‘ensured a portion of a flour contract from Goal was awarded to one of Halilov’s preferred vendors’ in February 2016.
In return for providing him with confidential tender information, Halilov paid her about 2,000 Turkish lira (€220) on this occasion. The court heard he also offered to provide her with a portion of his kickback money from Goal contracts. ‘In April 2016 he offered her kickbacks of $7-$10 per metric tonne of flour – up to $350,000 if she successfully steered the award to his preferred company.’ Halilov agreed to wire half the money up front and the remaining half upon payment from Goal to the vendors. In this instance, though, Goal cancelled the contract before any money was paid.
The court heard details of how Halilov wired $128,000 to the second co-conspirator and her mother in an 11-month period in 2015. The funds were used by this individual to buy a car and an apartment.
Meanwhile, Halilov’s own fraudulent earnings cannot be traced.
These ‘have been dissipated by him and cannot be located by the exercise of due diligence’, prosecutors testified. They have been transferred to third parties beyond the jurisdiction of the court.’ Halilov will be formally sentenced on March 26.
Under US law, the maximum penalties he is facing include a 10-year jail term and a $250k fine or a fine equal to two times the loss or gain resulting from his crimes.
In response to queries from the MoS, Goal said: ‘The organisation is not a party to the legal proceedings. We welcome the progress made towards a conclusion of this matter.