| Sept 17
Sept 17 A group of U.S. lawmakers called on U.S.
Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday to reinforce the
Pentagon's criminal investigation into an Army aviation unit
that awarded millions of dollars in contracts to Russian and
U.S. firms to maintain and overhaul Russian-made Mi-17
Nine senators and 23 members of the House of Representatives
in a letter said they have "great concern" about allegations of
possible criminal activity related to the Mi-17 program. They
urged Holder "to utilize all available resources, including the
Federal Bureau of Investigation" to support the Pentagon's
Reuters reported on Aug. 29 that investigators from the
Pentagon's Defense Criminal Investigative Service are examining
potentially improper payments by the Army's Non-Standard Rotary
Wing Aircraft unit to two Russian-owned subcontractors, Avia
Baltika and St. Petersburg Aircraft Repair Co, or SPARC.
Investigators are also examining possible personal
connections between members of the Army unit and the
contractors, said the sources, speaking on condition of
No charges have been filed.
Justice Department spokesman Michael Passman said in an
email, "We have received the letter, and we are reviewing it."
Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, released the
The Army's NSRWA unit was led from its inception by Colonel
Norbert E. Vergez, who retired in November 2012 and now works as
a senior vice president at Patriarch Partners, an $8 billion New
York-based private equity firm run by financier Lynn Tilton.
Patriarch owns MD Helicopters, a military and civilian
helicopter-maker based in Mesa, Arizona.
The New York Times reported that the Justice Department's
civil division requested information related to Patriarch's
hiring of Vergez.
David Goldin, a spokesman for Patriarch, did not immediately
respond to requests for comment. Previously, Goldin said the
private equity firm had not been informed of the criminal
investigation, but was aware of a Justice Department civil
inquiry concerning Vergez.
The maintenance deals under investigation are part of a
broader Defense Department program that is buying and
overhauling Russian-made Mi-17 helicopters for use by
Afghanistan. The aircraft are being bought by the Pentagon from
a Russian manufacturer through Russia's powerful state-owned
arms dealer, Rosoboronexport, which is not a focus of the
The Pentagon has touted the program - budgeted at
approximately $1.1 billion for acquisition of the latest set of
helicopters - as the quickest way to beef up the Afghan Air
Force's special mission wing before U.S. troops withdraw next
But lawmakers in both houses of Congress have demanded the
Pentagon halt its dealings with Rosoboronexport, in part because
the Russian firm supplies weapons to the government of Syrian
President Bashar al-Assad, blamed by Washington for using
chemical weapons that killed more than 1,400 people in the
country's civil war.
"The prospect that American taxpayers have been made into
unwitting victims of corruption demands special scrutiny,"
Cornyn said in a statement.
Rosoboronexport did not respond to a prior request for
comment. Yuri Borisov, and his son, Pavel, owners of Avia
Baltika and SPARC, did not respond to prior requests for
(Additional reporting by David Ingram; Editing by Vicki Allen)