Nigeria may drop Cheney charges in bribery case after talks with Halliburton

By Elisha Bala-Gbogbo

Nigeria may drop charges against former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and companies including Halliburton Co., where he was chief executive officer until 2000, the prosecuting attorney for the country’s anti-graft agency said.

After “fruitful discussions” with Halliburton officials in London last week, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is “awaiting further instructions” from the justice minister about whether to drop the charges related to a bribery scandal, Godwin Obla said yesterday in a telephone interview in Abuja, the capital. He didn’t provide details of the discussions.

Nigerian prosecutors filed charges on Dec. 8 for alleged bribery against Cheney, Albert “Jack” Stanley, ex-chairman of KBR Inc., a former unit of Halliburton, current CEO William Utt and Halliburton CEO David Lesar, according to court documents. Companies charged include Technip SA of France, Snamprogetti SpA, a unit of Eni SpA, KBR and JGC Corp. of Japan.

Nigeria, Africa’s biggest crude producer, alleges that the companies, which were part of group known as TSKJ, paid $180 million in bribes to Nigerian officials between 1994 and 2004 to win a $6 billion liquefied natural gas plant contract.

KBR agreed in February 2009 to pay a $402 million fine after admitting it bribed Nigerian officials, while Halliburton paid $177 million to settle allegations by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission without admitting wrongdoing.

‘No Basis’

Halliburton spokeswoman Tara Mullee said “there is no legal basis for the charges” in an e-mailed response to questions on Dec. 8 from Houston, while KBR said in an e-mailed statement on the same day that Nigerian “officials are wildly and wrongly asserting blame.”

Nigeria arrested at least 23 officials last month, including 11 from Halliburton and the CEO of Saipem Construction, a local unit of Rome-based Eni. Those detained were all freed on bail on Nov. 29.

Eni, Technip and JGC are in talks with Nigerian prosecutors to settle the corruption charges, the country’s anti-graft agency said on Dec. 7.

Technip took a charge of 245 million euros ($342 million) related to its stake in TSKJ and discussed “resolution of all potential claims” with the U.S. Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Paris-based company said on Feb. 12.

An aide of former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo was charged with six counts of money-laundering in Abuja on Oct. 13 in connection with the alleged payment of bribes.

Photo: Susan Walsh/AP