|Dick Cheney was a former top executive of Halliburton before becoming US vice president [GALLO/GETTY]|
Nigeria’s anti-corruption agency has charged Dick Cheney, a former US vice-president, over a bribery scheme involving Halliburton, an oil services company, during the time he served as the company’s top executive.
The charges stem from a case involving upto $180 million allegedly paid in bribes to Nigerian officials, Femi Babafemi, a spokesman for the country’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, said on Tuesday.
Halliburton and other firms allegedly paid the bribes to win a contract to build a $6bn 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,” he told The Associated Press.
“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 firm based in Houston.
In February 2009, KBR pleaded guilty in a US federal court to authorising 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 the plea deal.
Tara Mullee Agard. a Halliburton spokeswoman said on Tuesday that the company had not seen the new charges, but insisted the company had nothing to do with the project.
However, Babafemi said Halliburton, its Nigerian subsidiary, David J. Lesar, a Halliburton CEO, Albert “Jack” Stanley, a former KBR CEO, and William Utt, the current KBR CEO, all face similar charges in the case.
The spokesman said each charge in the 16-count indictment carried a sentence of as much as three years in prison.
Heather Browne, a KBR spokeswoman, said in a statement that Utt joined the firm 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 said.
“KBR will continue to vigorously defend itself and its executives, if necessary, in this matter.”
In 2008, Stanley pleaded guilty to federal bribery charges in the US for his role in the scheme. He is scheduled to be sentenced in federal court on January 19.
Nigeria, a major oil supplier to the US, long has been considered as having one of the world’s most corrupt governments.
Politics at play?
Federal prosecutors in the US 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 makes it unlawful for companies doing work in the US to bribe foreign government officials or company executives to secure or retain business.
Cheney resigned as Halliburton’s CEO in 2000 to run as former president George Bush’s vice president.
Babafemi declined to comment when asked how likely it was that Cheney would be extradited to Nigeria over the charges.
“We are following the laws of the land. We want to follow the laws and see where it will go,” he said.
“We’re very convinced by the time the trial commences, we’d make application for appropriate court orders to be issued.”
There could also be political calculations at play in the new charges.
Goodluck Jonathan, the Nigerian president, faces a coming primary election in the nation’s ruling party against former Atiku Abubakar, a former vice-president.
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.