- By Steve LeVine<p> Steve LeVine is a contributing editor at Foreign Policy, a Schwartz Fellow at the New America Foundation, and author of The Oil and the Glory. </p>
The reclusive Douglas Edelman lives in London’s posh district of Kensington, but according to those who know him, he cultivates the image of an easy-going, hippieish Californian, complete with a laid-back demeanor, plaid cotton shirts, and jeans. Edelman’s business card identifies him as the representative of a company called Aspen Wind, and he is known for helping finance and produce a film about the evangelist Billy Graham. But we of course are best acquainted with him as the proprietor of a greasy spoon in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan who has been attracting much attention for the $3 billion in single-source contracts he has obtained over the last seven years to deliver jet fuel for the war in Afghanistan.
At the end of last week, the Pentagon apparently finally got around to asking the contract-holder — a Gibraltar-registered company called Mina Corp. — who its owners are, writes the Washington Post’s Andy Higgins. Lo and behold, Mina did not list Edelman as its owner, but instead his previously unknown French wife, Delphine Le Dain, along with a 35-year-old Kyrgyz named Erkin Bekbolotov.
The Pentagon appears not to have blinked an eye, but this bit of aw-shucks, if-you-had-only-asked PR is not playing well with Kyrgyzstan’s irritated government, seething as it is over allegations that Mina kept the contracts by enriching the family of ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. Mina denies any wrongdoing, but on Friday the Bishkek government urged the United States to suspend cooperation with the company until a government investigation of the contracts is completed, RFE-RL reports. A day earlier, the Pentagon had announced another $315 million fuel contract to Mina, and Derek Mitchell, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs, said there was no apparent reason not to do so. He said:
It is a priority of the United States to ensure a secure, reliable and uninterrupted supply of fuel to the Transit Center to enable us to sustain our critical operations in Afghanistan. At the same time, we recognize the importance of a fuel contract process that is publicly transparent and fully in compliance with U.S. and Kyrgyz laws and regulations.
Le Dain and Bekbolotov have apparently rustled up an impressive amount of business: According to Deirdre Tynan, a Bishkek-based reporter for Eurasianet who has done the best sleuthing on the story, Mina is part of a veritable empire stretching from East Europe to Africa and Afghanistan. It includes an Internet company in Kabul, investment services in Africa, energy pipelines in Afghanistan, and trade and financial investments, not to mention the billion-dollar-jet-fuel business. Seth Hettena has unearthed Edelman’s role as an executive producer of Billy: The Early Years, a 2008 biopic about Graham.
I emailed around to acquaintances in London. While reclusive, Edelman has in fact appeared in public over the years. The personal description one gets is that he is in his late 50s, and recently bought a place in Kensington. He’s a nice guy, a Stockton, Calif. native with a decidedly casual Haight-Ashbury style of dress. He doesn’t talk at all about his business, apart from distributing the Aspen Wind business card.