Families of Nepalese workers killed in Iraq sue KBR

LOS ANGELES Wed Aug 27, 2008 10:14pm EDT

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - KBR Inc and its Jordanian contractor are being sued for human trafficking by a Nepalese survivor and the families of 12 other employees who were killed while being transported, allegedly against their will, to work in a U.S. military base in Iraq.

The lawsuit, filed on Wednesday, says military contractor KBR and Daoud & Partners recruited the men in Nepal by promising them jobs at a luxury hotel in Amman, Jordan, but instead sent them to Iraq where all but one were kidnapped and killed.

The 12 victims had their passports confiscated by Daoud representatives, and were kidnapped from an unprotected convoy by Islamic militants and killed in 2004, according to the suit filed in Los Angeles.

The survivor was forced to work at the Al Asad military base for 15 months before his passport was returned, the lawsuit said.

"It doesn't appear that any of them knew they were going to Iraq," said attorney Matthew Handley, who represents the men. "A few were told they were going to work at an American camp .... They thought they were going to work in America."

The suit was brought in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles under a relatively new federal human trafficking law and the Alien Tort Claims Act, which allows foreign citizens to sue the U.S. government, military or corporations over human rights abuses committed in their countries.

It also includes causes of action for extortion, kidnapping, racketeering, negligence and fraud.

The men's plight was detailed in a 2005 Chicago Tribune series that concluded that the U.S. government turned a blind eye to widespread human trafficking among military contractors hired to reconstruct Iraq and staff U.S. bases.

The U.S. military subsequently found that contractors had violated human trafficking laws and demanded that they return the workers' confiscated passports and end other abuses.

KBR would not comment on the lawsuit, but said in a statement that its employees were expected to adhere to a company code of conduct and complete ethics training that includes information about human trafficking.

"The safety and security of all employees and those the company serves remains KBR's top priority. The company in no way condones or tolerates unethical or illegal behavior," the statement said.

Daoud, which provided food, construction and transportation services at U.S. bases in Iraq, could not be reached for comment.

(Reporting by Gina Keating, editing by Richard Chang)

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