JORDAN: For AIG's Man in Jordan, War Becomes a Business Opportunity

Publisher Name: 
ProPublica

For Emad Hatabah, the war in Iraq became a business opportunity.

As
AIG's chief representative in Jordan, he was responsible for
coordinating the care for hundreds of Iraqis who had been injured while
working under contract for U.S. troops as linguists, truck drivers and
other jobs.

He fulfilled his functions by sending business to
himself, his friends and business associates, according to interviews
and records. For instance, Hatabah created his own air ambulance
service in July 2006, a company called Arab Assist, which AIG hired to
transport injured patients from Iraq to Jordan, records show.

"They
needed someone who has lots of connections. I'm a doctor with lots of
connections," Hatabah said during an interview at a hotel on a street
crowded with hospitals and medical offices in Amman.

But those
connections have raised questions about whether Hatabah acted in the
best interests of the injured Iraqis or of his ad-hoc medical network.
Taxpayers may ultimately pay the bill for such care under a U.S. law
which allows insurance firms such as AIG to seek full reimbursement for
the cost of treating civilian contractors injured in combat.

Hatabah
sent scores of interpreters and other Iraqi hires to a Jordanian
hospital called Al Khalidi, where the chief of the intensive care unit
was a business partner and college friend, Nael Abu Khaff. He called it
the best hospital to treat them. While they were waiting for care,
Hatabah had the interpreters stay at hotels owned by friends, he said.

In
an interview at Al Khalidi hospital, Abu Khaff confirmed his business
dealings with Hatabah, but said that his hospital was chosen to care
for the patients because it was one of the best in Jordan.

"We were the provider of medical treatment to these patients. I'm not an insurance doctor," Abu Khaff said.

Hatabah
also negotiated with Jordan's immigration authorities to arrange for
their visas, worked with local banks to set up accounts for the
interpreters and obtained rehabilitation therapy and prosthetic devices.

Colleen
Driscoll, a former official for defense contractor L-3, questioned
Hatabah's choices. For instance, Al Khalidi hospital is a
well-respected local institution, but it has not been accredited by the
U.S.-based Joint Commission International--the gold standard
certification held by other Jordanian hospitals.

Hatabah also
placed interpreters with no legs in hotels that had no handicapped
access, Driscoll said, and their prosthetics were heavy and fit poorly.

"Hatabah was a businessman. It was all about making money," Driscoll said.

Hatabah
acknowledged that some patients were placed in a hotel that was not
equipped to handle people with disabilities. However, he said he was
forced to relocate the patients quickly by L-3, and that the facilities
were upgraded as soon as possible. Hatabah also said the prosthetics
that he purchased were top quality.

Jordanian doctors who
reviewed medical records for some of the patients questioned some
charges as high. The cost of most medical procedures in Jordan is set
by a standardized fee schedule issued by the local medical association.

One
record indicates that AIG paid $29,105 for two surgeries to remove
stitches and other "medical expenses" for a patient whose care was
being coordinated by Hatabah. Jordanian doctors who reviewed the bill
said such charges would normally amount to around $3,500.

"They
act like a team and they want to manage all this number of patients.
This makes you suspicious," said one doctor, who did not want to be
identified for fear of offending AIG.

All told, Hatabah
estimated that he had overseen the care for more than 400 civilian
workers from Iraq and a handful of other nearby countries such as
Jordan. Hatabah said that he worked under a "mutual understanding" with
AIG in which the company paid him a certain fee per patient per day. He
declined to reveal specifics, but said he made at most about $100,000 a
year working for AIG.

He also said that AIG paid his doctors
rates far above normal for Jordan. He said that AIG officials told him
that they wanted to pay top dollar to obtain the best care.

Hatabah
acknowledged that neither AIG nor the federal government had accounting
mechanisms to oversee the network that he created.

"Is there a
guarantee that I didn't take a percentage? No, there is no guarantee
other than my word. It's my reputation. Is there a way for AIG to make
sure that I didn't get a percentage if I referred to Al Khalidi? They
can't."

While AIG paid for Hatabah's services, the company can
seek reimbursement under a U.S. law known as the War Hazards
Compensation Act.

The Act, passed in the 1940s, allows insurers
to seek payment from the Labor Department for medical costs and
disability payments associated with combat-injured civilian
contractors. It also provides companies an additional 15% to pay for
the cost of handling the claim.

As of May 2009, the department
had paid AIG $5.7 million for 77 claims, according to documents
released under the Freedom of Information Act. It is not clear why AIG
has submitted so few claims for reimbursement, given that hundreds of
contractors have been injured or killed in combat.

AIG officials declined to answer specific questions. Hatabah said he had no knowledge of the War Hazards Compensation Act.

"I
believe strongly that these people received the best we know, the best
we can and without taking sides," Hatabah said. "I do believe that AIG
tried their best to give these patients good and fair treatment."

However,
Hatabah's former clients have complained that he did not fully inform
them of their rights. Under the law, injured workers are allowed to
choose their own physician. Few Iraqi workers were aware that they had
this right, and said they relied on Hatabah for care.

Rafid
Kully, 32, was injured in a road accident while traveling with the U.S.
Marines as an interpreter. He said the orthopedist brought in by
Hatabah botched an operation on his foot, leaving him with a permanent
limp. When he attempted to get treatment from other doctors, AIG denied
his requests, he said.

In the interview, Hatabah said he had
advised Kully against the procedure. He acknowledged that Kully's
surgery did not achieve its intended results.

Now living in North Carolina as a refugee, Kully continues to battle AIG for medical treatment.

"We
thought our companies would help. We thought if you proved that
something was wrong, they would fix it. But it was all about money.
Nobody cared about us," Kully said. "Everybody was happy with the
situation. The doctors were making millions. AIG was making millions.
The companies did not have to pay a lot. Everybody was happy. But us."

AMP Section Name:War & Disaster Profiteering
  • 106 Money & Politics
  • 187 Privatization