Monday, February 18, 2013
Dominican Republic port contract scrutinized, along with senator, eye doctor’s relationship
By Ernesto Londoño and Carol D. Leonnig,
SANTO DOMINGO — When the U.S. Embassy set out to press the Dominican government over a long-stalled contract to provide port security, American officials took on some tough opponents. The deal had languished for more than a decade amid stiff resistance from the American Chamber of Commerce, which represents the interests of American and local businessmen in the Dominican Republic, and the country’s customs authorities.
Ambassador Raul Yzaguirre’s team pushed the government to enforce the contract — which calls for operating X-ray scanners to screen cargo at the country’s ports — despite objections over its merits and its price tag.
Menendez, whose relationship with Melgen is the subject of a Senate ethics inquiry, was a major beneficiary of the doctor’s generosity, repeatedly flying on his private plane to the Dominican Republic, staying as a guest at his seaside mansion and receiving large campaign contributions. Melgen donated $700,000 to Menendez and other Senate Democrats last year. The senator was also the most powerful champion of the port deal, publicly urging U.S. officials to pressure Dominican authorities to enforce the contract.
Menendez pointed to the port security deal at Yzaguirre’s confirmation hearing to become ambassador, an aide to the senator said, asking him to put a priority on security efforts aimed at countering drug trafficking through the Dominican Republic. Melgen, too, sought Yzaguirre’s help in enforcing the contract.