“The Fellowship” is a fraternity of baldly conspiratorial Christian fundamentalists near the center of American power. The group refuses to disclose its finances or membership, self-identifies as “The Family” or the “Christian Mafia,” and extols the subversive and revolutionary skills of Osama bin Laden and Lenin. For more than fifty years, it’s held the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington D.C. — a Jesus-themed gala of networking and schmoozing for the world’s top power brokers and politicians.
This year, President Obama spoke at the Prayer Breakfast. During his address, the famed orator could muster only an oblique remark about reports that the Family helped propose legislation in Uganda that would have gay people imprisoned or executed. Melanie Sloan, director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, lambasted the President for attending. She noted that the Family uses its connections to ingratiate foreign dictators with the American government, and other critics pointed out that defense contractors partly bankroll its gala.
Now the JREF has learned that the 2009 Prayer Breakfast hosted an Albanian member of parliament, Fatmir Mediu, accused of helping scam the U.S. Army on a critical Afghan war contract.
Under cover of the Prayer Breakfast and its pretensions to faith and piety, the suspect Albanian met with Vice-President Joseph Biden, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and a score of senators and congressmen, while subject to an escalating criminal investigation in Albania. Gary Kokalari, an Albanian-American activist in New York City, alerted the JREF to these meetings, which illustrate with uncommon clarity the perverse nature of the Family’s influence on government, and the way the group insinuates shifty characters into the corridors of power.
The story starts at a ruined Albanian arms depot called Gerdec. Two years ago, in March 2008, the depot erupted in an almost nuclear-sized chain of explosions, killing 26 people and obliterating a village. Fatmir Mediu — who would later turn up at the Prayer Breakfast — immediately resigned as Albania’s Minister of Defense over the disaster.
Weeks later, New York Times reporter C.J. Chivers blew open a scam that had allegedly been run out of the same depot by an arms company, AEY Inc., based in Miami Beach. Under a nearly $300 million U.S. Army contract, AEY had been tasked with selling ammunition to the Afghan government for the anti-terrorism fight. According to the Times’ front-page scoop, the Miami Beach company was filling the order with vintage, decayed Albanian ammo — which was illegal to sell to the Army because it had been manufactured decades earlier, much of it in the Chinese factories of Mao Tse-Tung.
After the Times expose, U.S. authorities indicted AEY’s principals, including its 22 year-old president, Efraim Diveroli, and its 25 year-old vice-president, a licensed masseur and recording artist.
But, in covertly recorded cell phone conversations, the young Diveroli hinted he had been bribing and cajoling a monolithic Albanian “mafia” that went up to the country’s “prime minister and his son.” The Times also relayed allegations from an Albanian whistleblower that Defense Minister Fatmir Mediu was complicit in the $300 million bamboozle, taking kickbacks. Mediu denied it. But, corroborating the charge, an Army Major told a congressional investigation that he had been at a late-night meeting between Mediu and the American ambassador to Albania, John Withers — at which Mediu fretted over the tightening Times investigation and insisted the “U.S. owed him something.” According to the Army Major’s account, Mediu and the U.S. ambassador agreed to a cover-up of the Maoist ammo scheme. A congressional investigation attacked obfuscation on the part of the State Department, whose own subsequent inquiry cleared the ambassador of involvement.
Three AEY officials have pled guilty to a count of conspiracy stemming from the scheme and await sentencing. But the Times’ whistleblower, Kosta Trebicka, the key to the case, turned up dead on a remote dirt road in eastern Albania in September 2008, sprawled about 50 yards away from his (barely) dented car — in what the Albanian government called an accident. So his full account of what happened with the $300 million contract, and the role Fatmir Mediu played in it, will never be known.
The whistleblower’s death was convenient for Mediu. But in June 2008, at the request of Albania’s general prosecutor, the country’s parliament voted to deprive Mediu of immunity from prosecution and commence an investigation into the explosion at the arms depot. The prosecutor highlighted the fact that children were employed there to dismantle heavy ordinance under dangerous conditions.
Then, in February 2009, Mediu arrived at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington D.C. with Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha, who was dodging reports that his government had demolished a village in cooperation with the World Bank. Berisha and Mediu got a VIP welcome from the Family and top U.S. officials. According to a newsletter issued by the Albanian government, it was at this Prayer Breakfast that Mediu met with Vice-President Joseph Biden and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
There’s also a picture of Mediu posing with senators John Thune (R-SD) and Sam Brownback (R-KS). The newsletter states that Mediu joined the pair at a “special dinner” organized by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Congressman Heath Shuler (D-NC). Also dining were senators James DeMint (R-SC) and John Ensign (R-NV) and, to quote from the newsletter, “congressmen Mike Doyle (D-PA), Trent Franks (R-AZ), Zach Wamp (R-TN), Robert Aderholt (R-AL), etc.”
And Mediu was photographed across a boardroom table from William Cohen, Secretary of Defense under Bill Clinton, in an in-depth meeting at Cohen’s Washington consulting firm.
Mediu’s Family-sponsored Washington visit came to an awkward end. After leaving the Prayer Breakfast and returning to Albania, he was immediately indicted for “abuse of power.” But last year, he was appointed Albania’s Minister of the Environment, restoring his immunity from prosecution and prompting the country’s High Court to suspend the case.
What’s clear through this international murk and unseemliness is that the Family may have something other than American interests at heart. In an interview, Melanie Sloan emphasized that Mediu and his ilk can enter Washington thanks only to the Family’s clout, which blends the powers of church and state.
“They have a history of dealing with foreigners of questionable repute who have a lot of money,” Sloan says. “They lend legitimacy to these characters by introducing them to U.S. government officials outside of State Department protocol.”
Without backing from the quasi-official Prayer Breakfast, it’s unlikely Mediu ever would have met with the Vice President, the Speaker of the House, and powerful senators and congressmen — all in one week, and while facing an impending indictment and allegations that he had conspired against the U.S. Army. But he did meet with them. And he can literally thank God for that.