The Corrupt Origins of the Melgen-Menendez Dominican Port Security Deal
The saga of the Dominician port security deal that has embroiled Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and his friend and major donor Dr. Salomon Melgen began in December 2000 when retired Major General Javier Juan Rene Beauchamp, Commander of the Dominican Armed Forces from 1975 to 1978 and “one of the strong men of the government of 12 years of Joaquín Balaguer,” was assassinated at his home in the Dominican Republic just months after Hipolito Mejia was elected as the country’s new president.
In 1973, then Brigadier General Beauchamp was part of an elite military squad that captured and executed former Dominican leader Colonel Francisco Caamana, who had invaded the Dominican Republic with a small team in hopes of establishing a guerrilla uprising that would overthrow strongman and then President Joaquín Balaguer. One report said that Beauchamp’s assassin’s motive was revenge, and he used a gun that Beauchamp had takenfrom Caamana and kept as a personal prize after his execution as the murder weapon.
In 2002, less than two years after Major General Beauchamp’s assassination, President Mejia gave his widow, Belinda Galvan, the extraordinary contract that granted the company she personally owned completely, ICSSI, a monopoly on the inspection of all containers going in and out of the twelve Dominican ports for a period of ten years. The contract was granted despite Galvan’s lack of port security experience, the lack of any financial assets in her company, the lack of any X-ray machines or other security equipment, and the lack of any experience or knowledge in the operation of such equipment.
Both the Dominican Armed Forces leaders who signed off on the contract and the Dominican Congress that ratified it at the request of President Mejia may have been duped by a legal sleight of hand. They may have believed they were approving a contract with a legitimate company with a different, but similar sounding name.
International Container Security System (ICSS) was at the time a Panamanian registered company, apparently with a track record in providing port security. Prior to 2002, the separate Dominican company that received the port security deal contract–ICSSI–did not exist. Indeed, it is quite likely that at the time the Dominican Congress ratified the $500 million port security deal in 2002, ICSSI existed on paper only as a company with no assets that was entirely owned by Belinda Galvan, General Beauchamp’s widow. ICSS subsequently sued ICSSI in American courts, but the outcome of that suit is unknown.
The original contract between ICSSI and the government of the Dominican Republic that was ratified by the Dominican Congress in 2002 was subsequently revised significantly by executive fiat. As the Dominican Republic news site Diario Libre reported:
The agreement approved by the National Congress on 18 July, 2002, under the signatures of Jose Miguel Soto Jimenez, representing the Dominican government, and for ICSSI, S.A., Ms. Belinda Galvan the widow of the former Secretary of the Armed Forces, Juan Rene Beauchamp Javier, gave the latter the right to check freight arriving in the seaports using the x-ray system for 10 years (with an automatic renewal for 10 more years). . .
The contract also had two addendums. The first, on 15 January 2003, added two articles to the original project, by which the State was obliged to reimburse the company, in case that they should decide to break the contract, with the total cost of each inspection not carried out during the remaining time on the contract . . .
The second addendum of 14 August 2003 modified . . . the rates, lowering the charge for checking empty containers to RD$14.00 and increasing the rate for inspecting loaded containers to US$95.00. . .
For these agreements, the parties were backed by decrees . . . which were signed by President Mejia.
Faced with opposition to the deal from the Dominican Customs Directorate and many in the Dominican business community, Galvan began looking for a company possessing the financial resources and technological capabilities to partner with in order to enforce the contract. In late 2002, the Swiss firm Cotecna, a world wide expert in port security and equipment, purchased a 50% interest in ICSSI for a payment of $50,000.
In a highly unusual element of the deal, Cotecna promised to pay Galvan an additional $1 million for the “goodwill” in the company that resulted from her efforts to secure the monopoly deal from the Dominican Republic. It’s not clear if that money was ever paid to Galvan.
As the lawsuit wound through the courts, Customs Director Cocco tried for a compromise. He asked Galvan to modify the contract so that it would be controlled by Cotecna, which had the track record and experience she and ICSSI lacked. Galvan refused, and in 2006, she bought back Cotecna’s half interest in the company, though it’s unclear what the financial terms of the transaction were.
From 2006 to 2011 the company was virtually inactive. An audit related to the lawsuit showed that it had only $50,000 in assets during this period–$10,000 in cash and $40,000 in equipment. But when the well connected Dr. Salomon Melgen purchased half of ICSSI in August of 2011, the company’s future began to look much brighter.
Now that Senator Menendez has been named Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, ICSSI may finally begin to cash in on the questionable $500 million port security deal, provided that Senator Menendez survives the current scandal in which he is embroiled.