The Ghost of Halliburton Scandal Haunts Nigeria

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Muhammadu Buhari
Buhari

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The $180bn Halliburton bribery scandal is still haunting Nigeria 12 years after it became public. Three former heads of state are enmeshed in the scandal prompting the question on whether President Muhammadu Buhari can must the political will to lay the ghost to its final grave by trying and punishing the culprits like their collaborators in the United States of America

By Maureen Chigbo  |   Feb 1, 2016 @ 01:00 GMT  |

FOR more than 12 years the ghost of the $180 million bribery scandal has been haunting Nigeria. Successive governments in the country have toyed with the idea of investigating to bring culprits to book. But they have all failed to muster the political will and courage to see the investigation through because of the high profiled Nigerian citizens involved in the case.

The Haliburton ghost is now hovering over the administration of the President Muhammadu Buhari whose current watchword is zero tolerance for corruption. As he is waging the anti-corruption fight, many rights activists have reminded him that he has to do everything possible to lay the ghost of Haliburton scandal to rest finally by exhuming the grave where the case has been buried and perform the final rights of punishing those culpable in the worst bribery scandal that hit the country in the last two decades.

Should the Buhari administration want to pursue the case, it could resurrect the report of the Presidential Panels which was anchored by Mike Okiro and Ogbonnaya Onovo, both former inspector-generals of police n Nigeria. Reports of the Presidential Panel of investigation on the deal listed the names of some former Nigerian leaders and other top government officials who benefited from it. The reports, which was exclusively published on the May 17, 2010, in now defunct Newswatch magazine contain the sordid details of the complicity of the dramatis personae in the scandal that has stirred unending controversies since it broke.

The reports include the first one submitted by Okiro to the president and commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces dated May 25, 2009 and the second, addressed to the attorney-general of the federation and minister of justice, dated July 20, 2009.

One of the reports on the saga signed by Onovo, inspector-general of police dated March 29, 2010, and addressed to the National Security Adviser, NSA, to the then Acting President Goodluck Jonathan, indicated that the panel had established that certain highly placed government officials received monies out of the $180 million bribe fund.

Some of the former Nigerian leaders who allegedly benefited from the dirty deal are late Sani Abacha, a general, Abdulsalami Abubakar, a general and former head of state and his successor, former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Atiku Abubakar, former vice-president. Apart from these former Nigerian leaders, other key government officials, bureaucrats, and their cronies were also enmeshed in the mega-bribery scandal. They include Dan Etete, former minister of petroleum during the Abacha regime, Ibrahim Aliyu, a retired permanent secretary and special adviser to Abdulsalam Abubakar on the transition programme from 1998 to 1999; Bodunde Adeyanju, special assistant to former President Obasanjo from 1999 to 2007, and MD Yusuf, former inspector-general of police who was the erstwhile chairman of the board of directors of the Nigeria Liquified Natural Gas, NLNG.

Other Nigerians who allegedly benefited from the illicit deal are Air Vice Marshal Abdullahi Bello, former chief of air staff; Umaru Shinkafi, former director-general of the Nigeria Security Organisation, NSO; Mohammed Gidado Bakare, a retired chief planning officer; Don Etiebet, former petroleum minister, Abdulkadir Abacha, younger brother to Abacha; Nasir Ado Bayero, son of the emir of Kano and two former group managing directors of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC; Jackson Gaius-Obaseki and Funsho Kupolokun.

According to the progress report of the Presidential Panel, the bribe paid to Nigerian officials was done at different times, starting from the Abacha years, in 1995 to the Obasanjo era. The report also graphically captured the genesis of the bribery scam, the identities of the foreign nationals who served as agents of Halliburton for payment of bribe to Nigerian government officials, the company through which the bribe money was channelled, and the role of the key players.

AbachaThe bribery scandal began in 1994, when the NLNG board under the chairmanship of Yusuf, opened bids for the award of contract for the Liquefied Natural Gas Project in Bonny, Rivers State. A consortium of four companies — Technip of France, Snamprogetti, a subsidiary of ENI SPA of Italy; Kellog of the United States later known as KBR and Japan Gasoline Corporation, which was registered as TSKJ, bid for the contract with BCSA. TSKJ is a subsidiary of Halliburton. TSKJ subsequently won the contract for $1.8 billion in September, 1994, to build trains 1 and 2 because its quotation was about $100 million lower than that of BCSA.

Work subsequently commenced on the project and TSKJ went on to win contracts for the construction of trains 1 to 6 at $6 billion. However, the lid over the bribery scandal that won the contract for TSKJ was blown open in June 2003. This happened in the course of investigations into slush funds managed by Elf, the French oil giant when Georges Krammer, former director of Technip, made depositions to the effect that TSKJ had secured the relevant contracts through bribery of key government officials and politicians in Nigeria. Further investigation into the Nigerian deal was opened in France in October 2003. Krammer deposed at the hearings that Jeffrey Tesler, a 60-year-old British lawyer, was the intermediary between Halliburton and the Nigerian government who channelled the bribery money through Tri-Star Investment Limited owned by him.

Under oath before Renaud Van Ruymbeke, trial magistrate, Tesler deposed that he had made payments to various Nigerian officials. Tesler’s partner in the illicit financial inducements was Wojciech Chodan, a 71-year-old Polish national who was formerly an executive of Kellogg and consultant to KBR. Chodan was alleged to have kept detailed diary of the bribery as regards the amount that should be disbursed to each Nigerian official and he kept the record in coded names.

Tesler had confessed in court that the payments he made included two transfers amounting to $75,000 to Yusuf, then chairman of the LNG, that awarded the original contract to the consortium. His testimony showed that the bribe was used to secure Yusuf’s support in facilitating a meeting between TSKJ officials and the late Abacha.

When Yusuf appeared before the Presidential Panel on the Halliburton bribe scandal, he acknowledged the receipt of the money from Tesler. The former IGP, however, claimed that it was issued to him as loan during his medical trips to London in 1997 and 1998. According to him, he used the money to defray his medical bills but the panel’s investigations showed there were no indications that Yusuf made efforts to repay the loan he claimed to have obtained from Tesler.

The panel’s report on how much each of the former Nigerian leaders benefited from the bribe money is quite revealing. With particular reference to Abacha, the panel said that the late head of state and Etete, then petroleum minister, had in August 1994, struck a deal with agents of TSKJ which made them to act improperly in favour of the consortium in the NLNG contract. As part of the deal, Tesler and Etete agreed that Abacha would be paid $40 million while other government officials who facilitated the deal would be paid $20 million.

As Newswatch reported, the panel also found out that Abdulkadir Abacha, younger brother of the late head of state, was paid $6 million. The money was paid in three tranches of $2 million each by one Mark Risser, an international arms merchant. On interrogation by the Presidential Panel Abdulkadir admitted that the money was paid into his account. He, however, claimed that the funds could have been part of Abacha’s loot which he had since reconciled with the federal government.

Like Abacha, Etete who served under his administration as petroleum minister and negotiated the dirty deal, equally got his own share of the bribe money. The panel’s findings indicate that when TSKJ won the contract, Tesler allegedly paid $63,000 into a Swiss account for Etete. Within the period, Tesler opened negotiations for the purchase of five percent of Etete’s holding in the OPL 245 Malabo oil bloc to cover his tracks. In connection with this deal, he paid $2.5 million to Etete through Tri-Star accounts in three different names — Dan Etete, Buzaki Etete and Omoni Amafegha. Incidentally, Etete’s OPL245 oil bloc was revoked by the Obasanjo administration in 1999. Etete was invited by the panel to clear the air on his involvement in the scandal but he refused to comply.

When Abacha died in June 1998, and was succeeded by Abdulsalam, Abubakar, a general, the Halliburton bribery syndicate continued its sordid deal with his administration. The agents of the consortium allegedly met with Abubakar in Abuja, on February 28, 1999, during which they requested him to designate a trusted ally through whom they would pay his own share of the bribe money. Ibrahim Aliyu, a retired permanent secretary and key figure in the Abubakar transition programme was his trusted ally who received the money on his behalf. Tesler had disbursed $7.5 rnillion into the accounts of two companies owned by Aliyu, namely — Urban Shelter and Intercellular Nigeria PLC.

During preliminary investigation, Aliyu admitted that he attended meetings where the NLNG contract was discussed when he served as adviser to Abubakar on the transition programme. He also acknowledged that he had a close relationship with Tesler for more than 13 years and that he received $7.5 million from him.

He, however, claimed that the money was for business transactions. According to him, he had sold one-third of his Intercellular shares to Tri-Star owned by Tesler. He further said that payment for the shares was made in two installments of $2.2 million and $3 million. Aliyu also claimed that an additional $2.5 million was paid to him by Tesler for the sale of a landed property which he was to develop for the latter as an office complex in Abuja, But Aliyu could not convincingly establish his claims, especially as the supposed office complex for which Tesler had paid in full was yet to be built.

Further investigation by the panel showed that Aliyu had introduced Mohammed Gidado Bakare, chairman, Sherwood Petroleum Limited, another suspect in the bribery scandal to Tesler in March 1999. Like Aliyu, Bakare received the sum of $7 million from Tesler. But Bakare claimed that it was a loan he secured from Tesler to enable him exploit the OPL 256 oil bloc allocated to Sherwood Petroleum. However, Bakare later informed the panel that he transferred the sum of $4 million out of the $7 million to Aliyu’s account in Switzerland, which the latter admitted.

From the findings of the panel, Aliyu was instrumental to the award of the oil bloc to Sherwood because he had holdings in the company. When Aliyu’s homes and offices were searched, the panel found a file containing details of the illicit transactions.

Abdulsalam AbubakarWhen Abubakar handed over power to Obasanjo in May 1999, the bribery agents did not stop their dirty deal. Despite the sanctimonious posturing of Obasanjo, then as an anti-corruption crusader, the findings of the panel indicate that his administration was enmeshed in the Halliburton bribery scandal. Investigation revealed that the agents of the consortium met with Obasanjo and Gaius-Obaseki, then GMD of NNPC in Abuja, where the deal was struck. Bodunde Adeyanju, then special assistant to Obasanjo was his trusted ally through whom the bribe money was delivered to the former president in 2002. Adeyanju admitted that he had received the sum of $5 million from Tesler through some officials of Julius Berger, the German construction giant. He, however, claimed that he received it on behalf of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, as fund for the 2003 presidential election campaign. He claimed that he later handed over the money to Lawal Batagarawa, who was then co-ordinator of the election campaign. Although officials of Julius Berger confirmed that they received the money from Tesler, which they handed over to Gaius-Obaseki who in turn passed the money to Adeyanju, Batagarawa denied receiving the money. But the report of the panel indicated that the money was converted to Naira and allegedly delivered in bullion vans to Adeyanju, Obasanjo’s presidential aide.

In March 2009 when Obasanjo was guest on the BBC famous programme, Hardtalk, anchored by Steven Suckur, he was asked about his level of involvement in the scam. But Obasanjo distanced himself from any wrongdoing.

Nevertheless, the panel’s report has linked the former president with the mega-bribery scandal. In addition, both Gaius-Obaseki and Kupolokun, who served as NNPC’s group managing directors during the Obasanjo administration, allegedly received pay-offs, in the NLNG contract awards to TSKJ.

Atiku Abubakar, former vice-president is also believed to have received his own share of the bribe money. Abubakar allegedly received pay-offs in the deal through Intels W.A., a company that he is a major shareholder. Investigation showed that the company served as conduit for pay-offs of slush funds on behalf of Marubeni Corporation, a global trading company with headquarters in Japan, which allegedly paid more than $50 million of the Halliburton bribe to lower and middle level officials of the NLNG and NNPC.

In the course of investigation, Intels was found to have received $10 million in two tranches from Marubeni on behalf of TSKJ. The money was paid to Intels W.A. account in London. Although officials of Intels claimed that the money was for oil intelligence services rendered to TSKJ, their claim was not convincing to the panel.

Other Nigerians who benefited from the deal are Shinkafi. former director-general of NSO, alleged to have received $195,000 from Tesler, Ombo Isokrari, former managing director of the National Fertiliser Company of Nigeria, alleged to have been financially induced with about $300,000, and Nasir Ado Bayero, son of the emir of Kano who got $600,000. In addition, Edith Unuigbe, head, legal services of NLNG and one Zertasha Malik, believed to be part-time resident of London, allegedly received $290,000 and $600,000, respectively.

AVM Bello, chief of air staff, between 1979 and 1983 is another prominent Nigerian who was neck-deep in the bribery scandal. He incorporated Tri-Star Investment Limited in 1989 with the assistance of Tesler, whom he claims to be his lawyer. He said he had known Tesler since 1985. From the findings of the panel, Bello had played a pivotal role in the disbursement of the bribe money.

When Bello was arrested in Lagos in April 2009, he denied knowledge of Tesler’s illicit deals with the NLNG. In the same vein, he could not explain the coincidence between the ownership of Tri-Star Investment Limited registered in Gibraltar and his own Tri-Star Company. But when his home and offices in Lagos were searched, several incriminating documents and files were retrieved, linking him with Tri-Star owned by Tesler which served as conduit for slush funds.

The panel is not done yet. It has more work to do. Onovo, inspector-general of police, believes that for the panel to effectively determine the level of culpability of Nigerians linked with the deal, it was pertinent for its members to proceed to some European countries such as Portugal, United Kingdom, France, and Switzerland for further investigation. This will enable the panel to meet with the operatives of the Serious Fraud Office, SFO, in London and possibly interrogate Tesler and Chodan, the prime suspects in the deal.

It’s been six years since the Presidential Panel report which has been gathering dust on the shelf was submitted. The Goodluck Jonathan administration did not have the political will to deal with it conclusively. With the current anti-corruption campaign raging, many Nigerians think that it’s about time President Buhari laid the Ghost of Haliburton to rest by exhuming the case and ensuring that culprits are brought to book. This is more so since citizens of other countries who participated in the scam have been tried and punished accordingly.

ObasanjoFor instance, “There is no day when I do not regret my weakness of character,” said Tesler, the contrite British lawyer and the mastermind of the bribery web in a Houston courtroom. “I allowed myself to accept standards of behaviour in a business culture which can never be justified. I accepted the system of corruption that existed in Nigeria. I turned a blind eye to what was happening, and I am guilty of the offences charged.” Tesler was speaking at the end of his 2012 sentencing hearing after pleading guilty to US corruption charges for his role in the Halliburton bribery scandal”.

Tesler used a network of secretive banks and offshore tax havens to funnel bribes to Nigerian officials in exchange for $6 billion in engineering and construction work for an international consortium of companies that included a then Halliburton subsidiary.

In 2010, Nigeria indicted former Vice-President Dick Cheney of Unted States of America, US, who was CEO of Halliburton before he was elected, only to later clear him when Halliburton worked out a $35 million settlement. Cheney had been chairman and chief executive of Halliburton, the parent company of KBR, for five years – from 1995 to 2000 – before becoming US vice-president in 2001.

Cheney’s lawyer has asserted repeatedly that his client was not involved. “The Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission investigated that joint venture extensively and found no suggestion of any impropriety by Dick Cheney in his role of CEO of Halliburton,” attorney Terrence O’Donnell wrote in a 2010 statement to the Associated Press.

Between 2009 and 2011, the consortium members paid penalties totalling more than $1.5 billion for their roles in the bribery scheme. Two KBR officials who had worked with Tesler, Wojciech Chodan and Albert (Jack) Stanley, KBR’s former chairman and chief executive officer, CEO, were sentenced to one year of probation and 30 months in prison, respectively, according to reports by paris-based Le Monde newspaper.

Whereas Tesler, who has served his sentence, returned to England, where he told authorities he would “spend the last few years, which God may graciously grant me, to seek forgiveness,” his collaborators in Nigeria are trotting about freely. This explains why many Nigerians and human rights activists have been mounting pressure on the federal government to re-open and investigate the Haliburton scandal. Their views are captured in the opinion of Femi Falana, SAN and human rights activists, who has called on the President to deal decisively with the Haliburton scam.

Falana in an interview with Channels Television recently said that for Nigeria to be taken serious in the international community in its war against corruption, it must address the Halliburton bribery scandal. Billions of dollars were looted in the scandal which involved top US officials including the company of the former Dick Cheney, US Vice President, Falana said, pointing out that while the US and other foreign countries had prosecuted those involved and recovered the loot, Nigeria was yet to. This will definitely annoy the foreign countries who have offered to cooperate with Nigeria if it is sincere on its war against corruption. Falana thus pressed that President Buhari should embark on investigating the scandal as soon as possible to recover as Nigeria could recover about $2 billion from the case as well as suing the banks involved .

Below is the list of Nigerians involved in the Halliburton Bribery Scandal and how much they got.

S/No. Year of Payment Alleged Amount Suspected Beneficiary
1 1994-1995 $40 Million USD Late Gen. Sani Abacha
2 1996-1998 $2.5 Million USD Chief Dan Etete
3 1996-1998 $75,000 USD M.D. Yusuf
4 March/June 1998 $1,120,000 USD 1. Grety Overseas UK
      2. Riser Brothers
5 1998 $1,887,00 USD Adbulkadir Abacha
6 1999-2000 $37.5 Million USD 1. Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar
      2. Chief Don Etiebet
7 March 1999 $600,000 USD 1. Prince N. A. Bayero
      2. Glosmer Int. (Risers Brothers)
8 March 1999 $290,000 USD Edith Unuigbe
9 March 1999 $600,000 USD 1. Zertasha Malik
      2. Grety Overseas (Risers Brothers)
10 1999-2000 $195,000 USD 1. Messr Shinkafi and Aliyu
      2. Glosmer Int. (Risers Brothers)
11 2001-2002 $74 Million USD 1. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo
      2. Atiku Abubakar
      3. Gaius Obaseki
      4. Funsho Kupolokun
12 2001-2002 $5 Million USD 1. Bodunde Adeyanju
13 2001-2002 $11,700,000 USD 1. Ibrahim Aliyu
      2. Urban Shelter
      3. Intercellular
14 2001-2002 $3,108,675 USD 1. M. G. Bakare
  TOTAL $178,575,675 USD  

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