Courthouse News Service
Courthouse News Service

Courthouse News Service
Friday, August 29, 2008Last Update: 4:31:09 AM

KBR Trades Slaves To Iraq,
Say Families Of 12 Dead Men

      LOS ANGELES (CN) - Nepali families say 12 of their sons are dead after U.S. military contractors tricked them into indentured servitude in Iraq. Contractors, including Kellogg Brown & Root, reeled the men in by promising $500 a month to work at a luxury hotel in Jordan, then switched the job and trapped them with huge "brokerage" fees, according to the federal RICO complaint. The families watched as a Nepali news station aired a video of Iraqi insurgents executing the men during their forced trek to Iraq.
     The families say the two named defendants - Daoud & Partners and Kellogg Brown & Root - engaged in human trafficking, preying on the men's poverty by claiming to offer well-paying, safe jobs while charging them a Nepali fortune in brokerage fees. Daoud allegedly charged each man between $1,000 and $3,500, with interest of up to 36 percent, to set him up with a job. That's between one year and one decade's wages for the average worker in Nepal.
     Plaintiffs say the contractors told the men they would work at the swank Le Royal Hotel in Amman, Jordan, or at an "American camp," a place the families say they assumed was in the United States. But the men soon found themselves on their way to a war zone. Only one of the 13 young men returned alive, the families say.
     According to the complaint, co-conspirator Moonlight Consultant recruited the laborers in Nepal, and filed documents with the Nepali government claiming that the men would work at Jordan's Le Royal Hotel. Instead, plaintiffs say, Moonlight transferred the men to Jordanian company Morning Star, which temporarily housed the men in Jordan. Plaintiffs say Morning Star has a booming business exporting laborers to Iraq. Another Jordanian company, Bisharat & Partners, transported the men from Jordan to Iraq.
     Family members say they got panicked phone calls from the men as they realized they were bound for Iraq. One man called his brother and said only, "I am done for," before the phone line went dead. Another man called his family to say that he and the other workers were being held "in a dark room where they were unable to see." When they got to Jordan, the defendants allegedly told the men they would only make $375 per month ? three-quarters of the wages they had promised. They also took the men's passports, say the plaintiffs. Although the men wanted to come home, the plaintiffs say, they were stuck going to Iraq because their families owed huge debts to the traffickers.
     Just two weeks before Daoud forced the captives into Iraq, insurgents had kidnapped two Daous drivers. In exchange for their release, the complaint says, Daoud promised to stop its operations in Iraq. Nine days later, on Aug. 19, 2004, the plaintiffs say, Daoud put the men in an unprotected caravan on the Amman-to-Baghdad highway in Iraq's Anbar province, one of the world's most dangerous roads. They say Daoud provided no security to the 17-car caravan.
     According to the complaint, "a handful" of men stopped the caravan about 40 miles south of its destination, Al Asad Air Base near Ramadi. The men told the drivers of the two lead vans to leave the workers there. They said Americans from the base would pick them up. Those two vans held the 12 men from the plaintiffs' families.
     The men at the checkpoint turned out to be insurgents from the Ansar al-Sunna Army. The next day, the Ansar al-Sunna Army announced its capture of the 12 men, listing their names on an Internet posting. On Aug. 24, 2004, the insurgents sent the Foreign Ministry of Nepal a video of 10 of the men, telling the story of their forced trip to Iraq in "stuttering Nepalese." In the video, one man said they "were kept as captives in Jordan at first," and were not allowed to go home. Another said, "I do not know when I will die, today or tomorrow."
     On Aug. 31, 2004, the plaintiffs say, they watched as international news stations showed a video of the Ansar al-Sunna Army executing the 12 men.
     Plaintiff Buddi Gurung says he also traveled to Iraq to work under forced conditions. Although he was part of the same unprotected caravan that the other plaintiffs were in, he survived because he rode in a different van. The defendants made him work at Al Asad Air Base for 18 months, he says, literally dodging bullets that flew in his windows, before finally letting him go home.
     According to the lawsuit, Daoud is one of the top U.S. military contractors in Iraq, with more than 2,000 employees. Plaintiffs say Daoud's treatment of the men violates the U.S. Defense Base Act and the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act, which requires military contractors to pay its workers and provide benefits. Kellogg Brown & Root Services, now known as KBR, is a major contractor in Iraq.
     The plaintiffs sued on behalf of themselves and the 13 young men. Buddi Gurung, the only survivor, is back in Nepal.
     The other men are Prakash Adhikari, a 22-year old teacher and farmer who was promised a job cleaning hotels in Amman before he ended up in Iraq; 19-year old Ramesh Khadka, a stone cutter whose impoverished parents took out a loan to fund his purported trip to Amman, where he had been promised a $500 per month job as a hotel cook; Mangal Limbu, 22, who also expected a $500 per month job as a cook in Jordan; Jeet Magar, a 22-year-old father who was promised a safe, $500 per month job in Jordan; Gyanendra Shrestha; Rajendra Shrestha, 27; Budhan Sudi, a 25-year-old movie theater worker; Manoj Thakur, a 24-year-old college student; Sanjay Thakur, a 21-year-old barber; Bishnu Thapa, an 18-year-old power plant watchman; 23-year-old Jhok Thapa; and 21-year-old Lalan Koiri.
     The families say the story of the 13 men is indicative of a much larger problem. The lawsuit cites a 2005 U.S. Department of State Trafficking Persons Report, describing the illegal trade in trafficked labor from South Asia and Southeast Asia into Iraq: "Some of these workers are offered fraudulent jobs in safe environments in Kuwait or Jordan, but are then forced into involuntary servitude in Iraq instead; others go to Iraq voluntarily, but are subjected to conditions of involuntary servitude after arrival. Brokers and subcontractors from Asia to the Middle East have worked in concert to import thousands of laborers into Iraq from impoverished countries, often employing fraud or coercion along the way, seizing workers' passports and charging recruitment 'fees' that make it difficult for workers to escape employment in the war zone."