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Nigeria charges Cheney in bribery

Case stems from ex-vice president’s job at Halliburton

By Jon Gambrell
Associated Press / December 8, 2010

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LAGOS, Nigeria — Nigeria’s anticorruption agency charged former Vice President Dick Cheney yesterday in connection with a bribery scheme involving Halliburton Co. while he served as the oil services company’s top executive.

The charges stem from a case involving as much as $180 million in alleged bribes paid to Nigerian officials, said Femi Babafemi, a spokesman for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. Halliburton and other companies allegedly paid the bribes to win a contract to build a $6 billion liquefied natural gas plant in Nigeria’s oil-rich southern delta, he said.

Terrence O’Donnell, a lawyer representing Cheney, denied the allegations.

“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,’’ O’Donnell said in a statement. “Any suggestion of misconduct on his part, made now, years later, is entirely baseless.’’

The Halliburton case involves its former subsidiary KBR, a major engineering and construction services company based in Houston. In February 2009, KBR Inc. pleaded guilty in US federal court to authorizing and paying bribes from 1995 to 2004 for the plant contracts in Nigeria.

KBR, which split from Halliburton in 2007, agreed to pay more than $400 million in fines in a plea deal.

Halliburton spokeswoman Tara Mullee Agard said the company had not seen the new charges, but she insisted the company had nothing to do with the gas plant.

Babafemi said Halliburton, its Nigerian subsidiary, Halliburton chief executive David J. Lesar, former KBR chief executive Albert “Jack’’ Stanley, and current KBR chief executive William Utt all face similar charges. Each charge in the 16-count indictment carries penalties of as much as three years in prison, he said.

Heather L. Browne, a KBR spokeswoman, said Utt joined the company in 2006, two years after prosecutors say the bribery case concluded.

“The actions of the Nigerian government suggest that its officials are wildly and wrongly asserting blame in this matter,’’ Browne’s statement read. “KBR will continue to vigorously defend itself and its executives.’’

Stanley pleaded guilty in 2008 to federal bribery charges for his role in the scheme. He is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 19.

Nigeria, a major oil supplier to the United States, has long been considered by analysts and watchdog groups as having one of the world’s most corrupt governments. Federal prosecutors in the United States have filed a series of charges over the construction of the Bonny Island liquefied natural gas plant under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. That law made it illegal for companies doing work in the United States to bribe foreign government officials or company executives to secure or retain business.

Cheney resigned as Halliburton’s chief executive in 2000 to run for election as former President George W. Bush’s vice president. Babafemi declined to comment when asked how likely it was that Cheney would be extradited to Nigeria over the charges.

There could be political calculations at play in the new charges. Nigeria’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, faces a primary election in the nation’s ruling party against former Vice President Atiku Abubakar.

Critics have tried to connect Abubakar to this bribery case in the past and the charges come as the election looms. Abubakar has denied any involvement.

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