DIRECTOR’S DEFENSE: Lawmakers Push for Answers In Orascom Deal

Some Iowa lawmakers still have more questions for Iowa Economic Development Authority Director Debi Durham following a senate ways and means committee hearing Tuesday that was, at times, contentious.

Durham told a packed committee hearing room that she didn’t know of a pending fraud lawsuit against a subsidiary of Orascom, an Egyptian-based company, when she pushed for hundreds of millions in tax incentives for the company’s planned plant in Lee County.

But she admitted to lawmakers her staff did know about the lawsuit. Durham recalled to lawmakers her conversation with her staff in light of the lawsuit, “I said, in the future, I should probably be aware of these things. So that when I get asked by you, I can say something other than, no, I was not aware of it, Senator.”

Senator Matt McCoy, a Des Moines Democrat, said the revelation was troubling that Durham’s staff knew about the lawsuit and didn’t see that as a red flag in the deal negotiations. He said, “To me, felt that there as no need to pursue it further. I guess that’s what I consider alarming or concerning.”

Both Durham and Governor Branstad say the 6-year-old suit involves an Orascom subsidiary, not the company itself. And they point out the federal government still does business with the company. Orascom has also denied any wrongdoing.

Senator Joe Bolkcom, an Iowa City Democrat, said the committee might want Durham to come back for more questions at another hearing.