Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad last week defended state financial incentives and bonding assistance that helped lure an Egyptian-owned fertilizer project in response to questions being raised over contract fraud charges leveled against the company by the federal government.

The Iowa Fertilizer Co. sold $1.2 billion of Midwestern Disaster Area Bonds structured with a mandatory tender in April that gives the company some breathing room to finalize plans for its $1.4 billion nitrogen fertilizer plant slated for construction in Lee County. The company is owned by Orascom Construction Industries.

Branstad pledged his ongoing support for the project despite the latest concerns to be raised by some lawmakers who objected to the bonding allocation and tax breaks awarded by local and state authorities. He also touted the number of temporary and permanent jobs the project would create and eventual savings expected on farmers' fertilizer purchases. "This is an investment that's going to be here for 50 years or more," the Republican governor was quoted as saying at a public event.

Critics of the project were upset to learn last month that Iowa economic development officials working on the subsidy package did not inform the department's head that an Orascom subsidiary was the subject of a federal lawsuit alleging contract fraud in Egypt.

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