James Biden isn’t a big name in the business of residential housing development, so what exactly qualifies him to work at a construction company and share in the winnings of a $1.5 billion project to build affordable homes in Iraq?
If you said it has something to do with his last name, the one shared by his older brother Vice President Joe Biden, you wouldn’t be far off. At least that’s the guess of some Wall Street analysts who cover the Marlton, NJ-based company Hill International and think they’ve seen yet another sordid tale of crony capitalism.
Hill has been around for decades; its main business is managing construction projects in the Middle East and here in America. It’s built a good reputation over the years, as has the father-son team who run it, Irv and David Richter.
But the bursting of the real-estate bubble took its toll; Hill shares are down 80 percent since 2008. Since 2011, the company has reported losses. Its Middle East business has also been stymied by the Arab Spring uprisings; in Libya alone, Hill is out $60 million in payments that it’s still trying to recover.
But it got some good news not long after its housing subsidiary hired James Biden as an executive vice president in late 2010. Just six months later, Hill won one of its biggest contracts ever, a $1.5 billion deal to build at least 100,000 affordable homes in Iraq.
A good deal for Hill, a relative newcomer to building homes — and for James Biden, who as one partner will get a good share of that $1.5 billion.
The deal is contingent on the Iraqi government providing financing, which it has yet to do, but Hill execs tell analysts the money could start flowing by the end of the year. That’s when everyone involved, James Biden included, will start collecting on tens of millions of dollars in profits.
One friend of James Biden’s estimates his net worth at around $7 million, yet he seems to have a remarkable lack of concrete business experience. An attorney who’s done work for him called him a “serial entrepreneur,” but didn’t name the startups he was responsible for.