Nigerian authorities said Tuesday they may drop bribery and corruption charges against Halliburton and former Vice President Dick Cheney over bribes company executives paid to government officials during Cheney's tenure as head of the oil services firm in exchange for securing contracts to build a liquefied natural gas facility in the country.
Last weekend, Nigeria's anti-corruption unit, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), met with representatives for Halliburton and Cheney in London in an attempt to hammer out a deal. Halliburton reportedly offered to pay $250 million in fines to settle the case.
Femi Babafemi, an EFCC spokesman, said the offer includes the "repatriation of $130 million trapped in Switzerland."
"It will need to be ratified by the government and expect a decision by the end of the week," Babafemi added.
A Halliburton spokesperson did not return a call for comment. But spokeswoman Tara Mullee said last week, "It is still our position that Halliburton was not involved in the project to which this bribery investigation relates and there is no legal basis for charges."
Prior to the meeting, according to the African Press Association (APA), Johnnie Carson, the US Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs, told reporters during a conference call that US government officials had urged the Nigerian government to carefully review the charges and ensure the case against Cheney was not politically motivated.
The charges against Cheney and Halliburton come as Nigeria prepares for a presidential election in April.
Asked by reporters "if Cheney would be allowed to stand trial in Nigeria, Carson said charges laid should be carefully and deeply substantiated as they were 'very serious,'" APA reported.
Carson said "US authorities had been following the case closely and had spoken to the Nigerian authorities about it."
As Truthout previously reported, Cheney and other current and former Halliburton executives were charged with bribery and corruption in a 16-count indictment filed in a high-court in Abuja, Nigeria's capital.
Nigerian anti-corruption officials also pressed the court to issue an arrest warrant for Cheney "to ensure that the former US Vice President appeared to stand trial alongside some top officials of Halliburton," APA reported.
Halliburton and its one-time subsidiary, Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR), were also charged. KBR, which also has handled lucrative US government support contracts for US troops in Iraq and elsewhere, was spun off from Halliburton in 2007 into a separate company.
The charges revolve around $180 million in bribes allegedly paid to Nigerian government officials between 1994 and 2004 to win $6 billion in construction contracts for the Bonny Island natural gas liquefaction plant. The bribes allegedly went to the notoriously corrupt Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha and some of his subordinates. Cheney was chairman and chief executive of Halliburton from 1995 to 2000.
The cash bribes allegedly were laundered through UK lawyer Jeffrey Tesler, who served as a consultant to KBR after it was formed in a 1998 merger that Cheney engineered between Halliburton and Dresser Industries. Tesler was hired in 1995 as an agent of a four-company joint venture that was awarded four engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contracts by Nigeria LNG Ltd., (NLNG). Tesler was indicted last year and he is fighting extradition to the US.
Also named in the indictment filed in Nigeria last week are KBR's former chief executive Albert "Jack" Stanley, KBR's current CEO William Utt and Halliburton CEO David Lesar.
In September 2008, Stanley, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud to settle charges related to a separate kickback scheme and for conspiring to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in connection with the Nigeria bribery case.
According to the Department of Justice's (DOJ) plea agreement, Stanley started paying bribes in 1995, the year Cheney was named chief executive of the corporation, and ended when Stanley was fired in 2004. Stanley faces seven years in prison and nearly $11 million in restitution payments. He remains free on bail pending a sentencing hearing scheduled for January.
Last year, KBR pleaded guilty to violating FCPA and admitted that it paid $180 million in "consulting fees" to Tesler and a Japanese trading company for use in bribing Nigerian government officials. KBR paid a $402 million fine and $177 million in civil penalties as part of its plea deal.
Two weeks ago, the DOJ announced that Tesler's associate, Wojciech J. Chodan, the former vice president to KBR's UK subsidiary, pleaded guilty to violating the FCPA for his role in the bribery scandal.
Chodan, who was extradited to the United States from England, is scheduled to be sentenced in February and faces a maximum five years in federal prison.