Specter: Senegal shakes down taxpayers. Twice. 

U.S. foreign aid officials appear complacent as a half-billion-dollar recipient of American aid tries to shake down a mostly American-owned company for a large sum of cash, according to Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa.

Last Wednesday, Specter wrote to Daniel Yohannes, CEO of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), regarding recent allegations that a top-ranking official in Senegal attempted to extort $200 million from Millicom, a Luxembourg-based telecom company.

“Recent news accounts detail reports that Karim Wade, the son of Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, attempted to shake down a global telecommunications company majority owned by Americans,” reads Specter’s letter, obtained by The Examiner. “Despite this worrying trend, the Senegalese newspaper Le Soleil reported that [MCC Resident Country Director Tanya Southerland] asserted that ‘we are continuing to conduct business like we were doing before.’” Specter wrote that the comments “lend the impression that the MCC country team may not be responding adequately to the problem of corruption.”

MCC committed $540 million in foreign aid to Senegal in September. A spokesman for MCC sent The Examiner a written statement. “We take the issue of corruption or potential corruption extremely seriously, and have built into all of our grants measures to make sure U.S. taxpayer money is safeguarded,” she wrote. She noted that Senegal was awarded a grant “based on its performance on third party indicators that examine how well a country promotes good governance, invests in its people and promotes economic freedom.”

Earlier this decade, Senegal was considered a model African nation, relatively well-governed. But experts say the nation’s progress has been derailed by top-level government corruption and a turn toward Iran in foreign policy.

“Senegal has long been a country that has been democratic and was economically quite dynamic, and was definitely a leader in West Africa,” said Todd Moss, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for West Africa. “What we’ve seen is a very steep and worrying decline in the last couple of years.”

The younger Wade, for example, has been appointed by his father to a newly created position designed to give him jurisdiction over everything the MCC grant money is spent on. His official title is Minister of State for International Cooperation, Urban and Regional Planning, Air Transport and Infrastructure.

MCC, a federal program started under President George W. Bush, is intended to help well-governed developing nations. But Dr. J.P. Pham of the National Committee on American Foreign policy said Senegal seemed to be gaming the system for foreign aid dollars.

“We have a government that did everything right, up until they got themselves into the queue to get a grant from the MCC,” Pham said. “They know the metrics [on corruption] will lag by a few years.”

One striking symbol of corruption in Senegal’s capital, Dakar, is a 328-foot bronze statue that President Wade recently erected at an estimated cost of $70 million. President Wade, who imported three-fourths of the labor for the project from North Korea, announced that he will direct 34 percent of the colossus’ tourism proceeds to his daughter’s private foundation.

In addition to the corruption, the Senegalese government has cozied up to Iran in recent years. President Wade and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have visited one another frequently. On one such visit in November 2009, Wade praised Iran for its work “against nuclear proliferation.” During a 2008 visit to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, the Iranian press quoted Wade, “We always set Iran as our example.”

“For half a billion dollars, we get no support,” Pham said. “Instead, we get obsequious support for the Iranian position.”

Examiner columnist David Freddoso is a commentary staff writer, who can be reached at dfreddoso@washingtonexaminer.com.

About The Author

David Freddoso

Bio:
David Freddoso came to the Washington Examiner in June 2009, after serving for nearly two years as a Capitol Hill-based staff reporter for National Review Online. Before writing his New York Times bestselling book, The Case Against Barack Obama, he spent three years assisting Robert Novak, the legendary Washington... more
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