by David Phinney
Oct. 24, 2007 — Despite allegations of poor construction, lousy and abusive labor practices and missed deadlines for completion, the Kuwaiti contractor building the new $592-million-and-counting US Embassy in Baghdad has been quietly bagging new lucrative contracts to build US diplomatic compounds around the world.
In September, First Kuwaiti General Trading and Contracting Co., won a $122-million State Department contract to build a U.S. consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, McClatchy reporter Warren P. Strobel has confirmed. Additionally, First Kuwaiti has won US embassy and consulate work over the past 13 months in Libreville, Gabon and a consulate in Surabaya, Indonesia.
Total Amount of Contracts: Well over $200 million.
First Kuwaiti has only been able to win more US State Department embassy work because it partnered with the US firm, Grunley Walsh LLC of Rockville, Md. Apparently, First Kuwaiti wields a hefty influence over management of Grunley Walsh’s international operations.
Why? Because US law requires that only U.S. firms can bid on embassy construction as the prime contractor.
But industry analysts said that First Kuwaiti appears to be the financial muscle behind the partnership with Grunley Walsh. Lebanese businessman Wadih al Absi founded the company in 1996. News reports and Middle East experts say that Absi is a supporter of Lebanese Christian politician Michel Aoun, an ally of Syria and the Iranian-backed Islamic militant group Hezbollah.
Last year, First Kuwaiti’s Washington representative, Robert Farah, began negotiations to buy Grunley Walsh. Farah told me recently that the negotiations were ongoing, but one State Department source believe that Farah and two other unnamed partners were successful in the purchase.
Most Amusing: First Kuwaiti has hired the public relations firm, Saylor Company, according to Strobel. The firm claims to specialize in “crisis” public relations and ” is known for handling high stakes communications.”