Friday, March 6, 2009

Nigeria: Halliburton Scandal - EFCC Closes in On Nigerian Suspects

Lagos — The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) may soon pin-down serving and former government officials who allegedly collected $180 million bribe from Halliburton to facilitate juicy Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) contracts.
The anti-graft agency which took over the matter during the regime of its former Chairman, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, is said to have obtained useful information from two immediate top government officials interrogated earlier and is currently working on the clues with a view to tracking down the culprits.
THISDAY confirmed from sources that the delay in nailing the suspects was due to failure by the alleged foreign collaborators in providing useful information to the investigators.
The foreigners were said to have shunned repeated demands by the EFCC to provide more information that could aid in the investigation, probably for fear that their interests in Nigerian deals would be at stake.
But determined to get to the root of the matter, the commission was said to have gathered pieces of information obtained from those involved in one way or the other and have so far made progress.
Former Energy Minister Edmund Daukoru and former Group Managing Director (GMD) of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mr. Funsho Kupolokun, were among scores of persons quizzed in the wake of the bribery scandal.
EFCC spokesman Femi Babafemi confirmed last night that the commission had made a tremendous progress in all the bribery cases including the one involving Siemens.
Babafemi, who declined further comments on grounds that they could jeopadise the investigation, said those found culpable would be exposed.
"We are on top of the cases. I can confirm to you that we have made progress both in the Halliburton case and the Siemens case," he said.
THISDAY reliably gathered that a former top ministry official who was linked to the scandal may have provided most of the clues currently being used by the commission.
The Halliburton bribe scandal has been rocking the country since the revelation in 2003 that some Nigerian government officials had collected $180 million bribe to ensure that the company got the juicy LNG contracts.
Attempts to sweep the matter under the carpet failed as President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua was said to have directed that the matter be thoroughly investigated and all those found culpable in the illicit oil and gas deal be prosecuted.
It was on the strength of that directive that the anti-graft agency, which took over the matter, invited the two ministry chiefs for questioning.
Aside from the Halliburton case, EFCC also said it was also working on Wilbros and KBR cases.
TSKJ, a Portugal-registered company, owned jointly by Halliburton's Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR), Technip SA of France, Eni's Snampro-getti Netherlands and Japan Gas Corporation (JGC) built Trains 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 of the Nigeria LNG plants in Bonny Island.
THISDAY checks reveal that after the formation of the TKSJ consortium, it created LNG Services, a subsidiary based in the Portuguese Island of Madeira, a place where tax laws allegedly exempt businesses.
This consortium of engineering firms was awarded a turnkey engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract for the construction of the first phase of the plant in December 1995.
The scandal came to the public domain after a French court launched an investigation in October 2003 to look into allegations that one of the firms, KBR, paid $180 million to Federal Government officials to win contracts for the construction of the first two trains of the NLNG plant in late 1990s.
This was followed by the probe of US oil service companies operating in Nigeria by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) and US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
The aim of the probe, THISDAY learnt, was to determine whether the oil service companies violated the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) by bribing officials of the Federal Government.
Under the FCPA, it is an offence for US companies or their agents to pay bribes to win contracts abroad.
Halliburton allegedly admitted in a regulatory filing with SEC that improper payments to Nigerian government officials might have been made in order to win the LNG contract.
The company was also earlier alleged to have admitted that an internal probe suggested that members of the TSKJ consortium, which it leads, might have bribed government officials.
But the Nigerian officials allegedly named in the scam were not prosecuted despite the assurance given in 2004 by the Federal Government that the matter had been handed over to the then newly-inaugurated EFCC.
When the French investigation began in 2003, Halliburton said it was innocent of the allegation since the alleged bribe occurred before its' acquisition of Kellog Brown & Root (KBR).
Halliburton was also said to have instructed its representatives in the country to submit the names of the Nigerians allegedly involved in the scam to government.
Following this revelation, the House of Representatives Committee on Public Petition that investigated the matter in August 2004 recommended that all companies linked with TSKJ and Halliburton in Nigeria should be excluded from new contracts until its investigation was completed.
Only last week, indications emerged that Halliburton had agreed to pay $559 million to settle federal charges for its employees' bribing of officials in Nigeria.
The settlement, still awaiting formal approval from the US Department of Justice (DoJ), would be the biggest fine by far of a US company in a bribery case, topping the $44 million that Baker Hughes Inc. paid last year in relation to charges that it paid bribes in Kazakhstan.
Penalties for bribery and corruption offences have been increasing worldwide with Siemens, the German conglomerate, agreeing to pay $800 million (£564 million) to settle US allegations regarding payments to government officials in several countries to win infrastructure contracts.


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