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Withdrawal Of Corruption Charges Against Cheney, Others Illegal - Lawyer

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ABUJA, Dec 27, (THEWILL) - An anti-corruption lawyer, Mr. Osuagwu Ugochukwu has petitioned President Goodluck Jonathan and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over the ‘out of court settlement’ and payment of $35 million to Nigerian government to withdraw a case of bribery and corruption against former US Vice President, Richard Dick Cheney and others saying, ‘it is slap on the face of Nigerians.’

The EFCC had sued Cheney and nine executives including obtaining a warrant of arrest for Cheney, who was Halliburton's CEO in the late 90s, for allegedly distributing bribes to Nigerian officials amounting to $180 million.

In a letter dated December 22, 2010 and addressed to the Chairman of EFCC, Mrs. Farida Waziri and copied to President Jonathan, Ugochukwu averred that the process of negotiating and arriving at the fine of $35 million to leave the accused off the hook was “illegal and unconstitutional.”

He argued that the EFCC lacked the constitutional powers to broker such a transaction explaining that only a competent court of law has the jurisdiction to do so.

The letter reads: “We watched you on Channel TV on December 16, 2010 while receiving the new US Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Terrence McCulley wherein you stated amongst other things that the $180 million Halliburton bribe criminal charge has been settled out of court and that the fine of $250 million was imposed by your commission in concert with the AGF office on the accused persons.

“We know as a point of law that once a criminal charge has been filed in a competent court, issue of penalty of fine are for the courts to impose and not parties. Hence we are shocked to hear that the EFCC imposed a fine on an accused person.

“We also know as a point of law that criminal matters cannot be settled out court as in civil matters in Nigeria. What is permissible here is plea bargain or compounding of offences under section 14 (2) EFCC Establishment Act 2004,” Mr. Ugochukwu wrote. The lawyer from St. Francis Xavier Solicitors and Advocates contended that it is the exclusive preserve of the courts to impose penalty of fine on accused persons and not the EFCC or any other body.

He therefore called on the EFCC to immediately withdraw its ‘settlement’ with Dick Cheney and follow the path of rule of law in the interest of the renewed fight against corruption in the country. “If what your commission did by ‘settling’ with former US Vice President, Richard Dick Cheney and his co-accusers is true then, it is really a slap on the face of Nigerians who are crusading for the intensification to the fight against corruption. It is also illegal and unconstitutional.

“To this extent, we humbly urge your commission to do a rethink on this Halliburton settlement matter by following the path of rule of law,” the lawyer advised the EFCC.

It will be recalled that THEWILL had in an exclusive report on December 13, 2010, detailed how representatives of the Nigerian government, top executives of Halliburton, former US President George Walker Bush (Snr) and former US Secretary of State, Mr. James Baker negotiated in London and reached a settlement that Halliburton would pay about N20 billion naira in fine including helping Nigeria recover about $130 million from a Swiss bank account set up by a former agent of the company.

Top Nigerian officials who were at the meeting are; Attorney General of Federation and Justice Minister, Mr. Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN); Secretary of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Emmanuel Akomaye; legal luminaries, Damian Dodo (SAN); Godwin Obla and the Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission, Roland Ewubare.

A two paragraph statement by Halliburton obtained by THEWILL had said: “Halliburton (NYSE: HAL) announced today the resolution of the previously disclosed investigation by the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) arising out of allegations of improper payments to government officials in Nigeria in connection with the construction and subsequent expansion by a joint venture known as TSKJ of a natural gas liquefaction project on Bonny Island, Nigeria, in which Halliburton's former subsidiary KBR, Inc. had an approximate 25 percent interest.

“Pursuant to this agreement, all lawsuits and charges against KBR and Halliburton corporate entities and associated persons have been withdrawn, the FGN agreed not to bring any further criminal charges or civil claims against those entities or persons, and Halliburton agreed to pay US$32.5 million to the FGN and to pay an additional US$2.5 million for FGN’s attorneys’ fees and other expenses. Among other provisions, Halliburton agreed to provide reasonable assistance in the FGN’s effort to recover amounts frozen in a Swiss bank account of a former TSKJ agent and affirmed a continuing commitment with regard to corporate governance. Any charges related to this settlement will be reflected in discontinued operations,” the company said in the statement.