Halliburton bribery scandal: Who are the bribe takers?

By Emmanuel Ajibulu

By Emmanuel Ajibulu
The Halliburton bribery tale has been a worrisome issue since it broke in 2003, following an investigation of KBR, a Halliburton subsidiary, over payments to a range of high profile Nigerian officials in the executive, NNPC and the NLNG. The sum of $180 million was involved over a contract estimated to worth about $6 billion. Kellog, Brown and Root (KBR), the Halliburton subsidiary that got the job, was part of a four-company joint venture on the project. The company has already pleaded guilty and agreed to pay a fine of $520 million.

In the information available in the public domain, court documents in the USA, KBR admitted that at the crucial junctures before the award of the contracts, KBR's former CEO, Albert Jack Stanley and others met with three successive former holders of a top-level office in the executive branch of the Nigerian government to ask the office holders to designate a representative with whom the joint-venture should negotiate bribes to Nigerian officials. Two representatives were accordingly hired - a consulting company, Tri-Star, based in Gribraltar and a trading company based in Tokyo. Tri-Star was paid $132 million, while the Tokyo Company got $50 million. All the money was to be passed to Nigerian officials, according to documents on the website of the US Justice Department.

The EFCC, which once probed the $180m bribe scandal, interrogated Edmund Daokuru, former minister of state and Funso Kupolokun, the managing director of the NNPC. The scandal broke out after a French court investigated KBR on an allegation that it paid $180m to FG officials to win contracts for the construction of the NLNG plant (an awesome project aimed at building first Africa's liquefied natural gas plant in Bony, Rivers State, Nigeria). The House of Representatives also carried out a separate investigation. But Halliburton officials failed to cooperate in unveiling the Nigerian officials who shared the $180 million bribe money, on the excuse that investigation on the same match were afoot in the US and Europe. The bribe paid to Nigerian officials was done at different times, starting from the General Sani Abacha years, in 1995.

In 1995, unconfirmed report revealed that Halliburton's subsidiary, TSKJ, hired Spanish-based Tri-Star Company, owned by indicted London lawyer, Jeffrey Tessler, to pay $60 million in bribes to Nigerians. In 1999, $37.5 million was paid. It was not clear if the money was paid before Abdulsalami handed over to General Obasanjo in May, 1999. But under Obasanjo, Halliburton twice paid kickbacks– in 2001 and 2002. In 2001, $51 million was paid and in 2002, $37.5 million was paid. Two Nigerians whose names had featured in the bribe saga were Alhaji M.D. Yusuf and former oil minister, Dan Etete, during Abacha's time. Yusuf admitted collecting money from Tessler, but said it was a loan. Etete, on his part, said the NLNG contract was awarded without his input. The contract was valued at more than $6 billion and awarded between 1995 and 2004.

Meanwhile Former President Olusegun Obasanjo an elder statesman was invited to BBC famous programme Hardtalk (sometime in march 2009), anchored by Steven Suckur. In the middle of the interview Steven said Obasanjo's name was mentioned by Tesler to have been involved in the drama but Obasanjo distanced himself from any wrong doing. Meanwhile, the American investigators made it known that three former Nigerian leaders were indicted in this shoddy deal, and names like Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Abdusalami Abubakar and late General Sani Abacha are not spared. Also enmeshed in the vast and formalized bribery scheme is a long line of ministers, bureaucrats, top politicians, state and local officials. The question now is who actually collected this bribe? Nigerians are desperate to know. Or could it be a hoax?

However, in April 2009 some sign of relief came when the Federal Government through the Attorney-General/Minister of Justice, Chief Mike Aondoaka disclosed that $150 million out of the $180 million Halliburton bribe is trapped in Zurich, Switzerland. The minister must indeed be commended for this bold step.

His words: “We have discovered that $150million of the bribe money is in Zurich. That is the first shocking discovery. The entire money is $180 million. $150 million is already in Zurich trapped.”

The Attorney-General while addressing press conference said government was trying to find out in whose account the money was lodged. When asked how he got to know that the money was in Zurich, he replied, “Am I not the chief law officer of this country? I went to US and we had useful information. For me even if you are talking to me, sharing ideas with me I must have all the information authenticated by the government and the US government has been very friendly to us.”

On how the government would treat those indicted, he said, “when crime is committed we prosecute and we would not deny prosecution to anybody.” Aondoaka said he was not happy with the way the Halliburton story was being reported as if the government was hiding the names of those involved.

According to him, “the judgment is under seal and you (press) are talking as if we sealed the names in the court so you can't get the names. “All these names you get, let me make it clear to you, government does not prosecute out of the newspaper stories.

“If somebody said I voted $40 million for you and if the money does not reach you, can I come and prosecute you because in his book he wrote $40 million?

“There must be evidence that must be tendered to show that that money was handed over to you. Is it through wire transfer? Is it through somebody? So these are some of the things we want to establish. The main fact that somebody wrote in his book that I have voted $40 million that he wants to bribe you does not mean that you have taken bribe... For instance, we have discovered that $150 million of the bribe money is in Zurich. That is the first shocking discovery.”

Consequently, Nigerians are happy with the high powered committee set up specifically to thoroughly investigate this matter, and Nigerians have strong conviction that this committee which involves the EFCC boss Hajia Farida Waziri, the Inspector General of Police Mr. Mike Okiro, Attorney-General Chief Mike Aondoaka, others are representatives of the National Security Adviser (NSA), the Director General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and the Director General, States Security Services (SSS). President Umaru Yar'Adua has given assurance that his administration will not shield any Nigerian, no matter his/her status. The President also called for patience from Nigerians on the issue, saying his administration is waiting for the “authentic” facts, as currently sealed by a US Court, so those involved in the scandal would not turn around to accuse the government of political persecution.

Meanwhile all stakeholders concerned in this investigative task should note that there is something crucial here that should not be undermined, and that is the image of Nigeria. Nigerians have read different reports, so many publication online reports from different websites nationally and internationally therefore the committee should ambidextrously expedite its efforts to ensure that no stone is left unturned; Nigerians have considered this committee as the last symbol of hope on this alleged corrupt act. The success of this task can conveniently be considered as a key milestone which can be instrumental to the redemption of Nigeria's battered image over this over publicised bribery scandal, and this can score us the point of being good people great nation.

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