Indications again emerged on Thursday that cast doubts on Nigeria’s war on corruption and the Federal Government’s stand in the war. A Federal Court in Houston, United States on Wednesday sentenced a British national, Wojciech Chodah to one year of unsupervised probation and a fine of $ 20,000 for his role in the Halliburton bribe scandal that rocked Nigeria from the Abacha years through the Obasanjo era.
Chodah got into trouble for helping KBR, a subsidiary of Halliburton pay bribes of about $ 180 million to Nigerian officials to enable the company win contracts worth about $ 6 billion in Nigeria’s liquefied natural gas sector between 1994 and 2004. The Briton pleaded guilty in 2010 and faced up to 5 years imprisonment, a plea agreement however saw his sentenced reduced to the fine and probation.
Ironically however, all the Nigerian brine takers are still walking the streets as free men with the Federal Government and its anti-graft agencies doing little or nothing to bring them to book.
So far, only Bodunde Adeyanju, the former Personal Assistant to former President Olusegun Obasanjo has been arraigned in connection with the bribery scandal. Meanwhile, there are insinuations that the former Personal Assistant could not have collected the funds for himself, an indication that he was acting under instructions.
Street Journal’s findings revealed that the story of the Halliburton scandal began way back in September, 1994 when TSKJ, a group incorporated in Medeira, Portugal submitted a bid to Nigeria’s LNG to build a natural gas plant. The bid submitted by TSKJ was for $ 2 billion which was about 5 % lower than the one submitted by a rival, Bechtel Group Inc.
By November, 1994, while TSKJ was waiting for the decision of the Nigerian government on its bid, Wojciech Chodan, then an executive held a meeting with Jefferey Tesler, a London lawyer known to have contacts with Nigeria’s then Head of State, General Sani Abacha and other top members of his government. During the meeting, they discussed about channelling $40 million to Gen. Abacha through Tesler’s firm Tri-Star, based in Gibralter, Spain.
Tesler was formally hired as agent by TSKJ in March 1995, though he had been working for the Group before then. The employment contract provided that Mr. Tesler would be paid $60 million if Nigeria awarded the construction contract to TSKJ. His firm, Tri-Star was contracted to receive at least $160 million in five agreements signed between 1995 and 2002, and the funds were directed to bank accounts in Switzerland and Monaco.
During interrogation, Tesler confirmed that between March, 1995 and 1998, he transferred $ 2.5 million to Swiss bank accounts held by Nigeria’s Petroleum Minister, Dan Etete using fake names. Tesler told investigators that the money was for oil explorations in Nigeria and that he never knew that the accounts belonged to Etete.
Tesler and TSKJ’s efforts finally paid off as the $ 2 billion LNG contract was awarded to the company in 1995.
By March 1999, Halliburton, the parent company announced that the Nigerian Government awarded another $ 1.2 billion to TSKJ to expand the construction of the natural gas plant from two trains to three trains in order to increase the plant’s capacity by 50 percent.
Everything seemed normal until the bubble burst in October, 2003 when investigations of suspicious payments made by TSKJ commenced at the request of a magistrate after a former executive with one of TSKJ’s partners, Technip of France, disclosed that Tesler has been “directly linked to corruption in Nigeria.” Halliburton later admitted that TSKJ paid $132 million in “advisory fees” to Jefferey Tesler and that under Tesler’s contract with the company the money was not to be used for bribery.
The French investigator described the payments to Tesler as being “completely unjustified.” The money was paid to Mr. Tesler between 1995 and 2002, more than half of which came after 1999. Under French law, Mr. Cheney, Halliburton’s CEO then could be subject to a charge of “abuse of corporate assets” even if he knew nothing about the alleged improper payments during his tenure as Halliburton’s chief executive.
Street Journal later found out that the United States ant-bribery law applies only to executives who are aware of illicit payments to foreign officials. It was also found out that although French authorities don’t have jurisdiction over Halliburton in the case, they are sharing information with U.S. authorities. A preliminary investigation by the Police Judiciaire of France found that four payments were made to a Gibralter company by LNG Servicos, a company indirectly owned by the four partners in the Nigerian joint venture. The payments totalled at least $166 million, it was also discovered that the funds were transferred at times that roughly coincided with the award of contracts. The Gibraltaer company was of course owned by a London attorney and it made payments into a Swiss bank account that was later closed at the request of the bank.
While Nigerians were waiting to see if any of the “big men” whose names came up would be made to face the music, they were stunned to hear that Halliburton has agreed to pay Nigeria $35 million to settle bribery allegations that led to the charges against Tessler and the Halliburton executive including former American Vice President, Dick Cheney.