In its quarterly filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission on April 25, Halliburton said the Justice Department was widening its probe to determine whether Kellogg Brown & Root paid $180 million in bribes to Nigerian officials to win a $5 billion construction contract for the Bonny Island natural gas liquefaction plant.
Halliburton also said the Justice Department is investigating whether bribes were paid to Nigerian officials relating to KBR’s construction of an offshore platform. The bribes allegedly went to the notoriously corrupt Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha and some of his subordinates.
The Justice Department "has evidence of payments to Nigerian officials by another agent in connection with a separate KBR-managed project in Nigeria called the Shell EA project," according to a footnote in Halliburton’s SEC filing.
The footnote’s reference to Shell was the first time the petroleum giant was linked to the bribery suspicions. Representatives from Shell and Halliburton did not return repeated calls or e-mails for comment.
KBR, which also has handled lucrative U.S. government support contracts for U.S. troops in Iraq and elsewhere, was spun off from Halliburton last year into a separate company.
In its quarterly filing last October, Halliburton said it was subpoenaed by the Justice Department and SEC over the use – by a KBR-led consortium known as TSKJ – “of an immigration services provider, apparently managed by a Nigerian immigration official, to which approximately $1.8 million in payments in excess of costs of visas were allegedly made between approximately 1997 and the termination of the provider in December 2004 and our 2007 reporting of this matter to the government.”
Halliburton also noted that federal investigators had “expressed concern regarding the level of our cooperation,” wording that suggests suspicion of a cover-up or at least foot-dragging.
Halliburton’s April 25 filing marked the first time that specific evidence was cited to support claims that Halliburton bribed Nigerian officials in violation of the U.S. Corrupt Foreign Practices Act while Cheney was the company’s chief executive officer.
The SEC, which regulates companies that sell stock on public markets as Halliburton does, also has been investigating the case. Halliburton said it had agreed to extend the statute of limitations related to the investigation.
According to previous published accounts of the bribery scandal, the cash allegedly was laundered through UK lawyer Jeffrey Tesler, who served as a consultant to KBR after it was formed in a 1998 merger that Cheney engineered between Halliburton and Dresser Industries.
The bribery investigation was launched in 2003 when Georges Krammer, a former executive French company Technip, a member of the consortium for the Bonny Island project, informed French magistrate Renaud Van Ruymbeke that the contracts his group obtained came as a result of payments Tesler made to Nigerian officials from a slush fund the lawyer allegedly managed.
For more than a year, the magistrate poured over evidence to determine whether Cheney may have been responsible under French law for at least one of four bribery payments to the Nigerian officials.
Under French law, “the head of a company can be charged with ‘misuse of corporate assets’ for bribes paid by any employee – even if the executive didn’t know about the improper payments.” Authorities in the UK and Switzerland also have been investigating the matter.
Legal observers say it is highly unlikely that the U.S. Justice Department will further implicate Cheney in the scandal even if alleged bribery did take place on his watch. To date, there has been no direct evidence indicating that Cheney played a direct role in the bribes.