The $27 billion Halliburton bribery scandal is trapped in a language game involving France and Switzerland on the one hand, and Nigeria on the other, leading to a delay in the Nigerian investigation which commenced in April this year.
The panel investigating the bribe allegation was asked to complete its task in August. However, on September 10, in Abuja, Nigeria’s Attorney General, Michael Aondoakaa, said that he had written to the two countries seeking their assistance in identifying the Nigerians who benefitted from the bribe but both countries requested that the demand be written in French language.
One month after the request, the government is yet to translate the documents, and send a fresh demand.
“The request was made to Switzerland and France. The request was written in English and they returned it saying: ‘translate into French’. We are in the process of doing that,” said Taye Akinyemi, the spokesperson for the Justice mister.
Mr. Akinyemi, in an interview on Thursday, October 9, 2009, could not say how soon the translation process would be wrapped up.
Why Switzerland and France?
The government requested the assistance of France because Technip, the first of the companies involved in the TSKJ consortium that paid the bribe, is a French registered company. The company has also been investigated by French security agencies for the scandal.
The Swiss government’s assistance is being sought because of preliminary investigations which showed that some of the money including those allegedly meant for late President Sani Abacha, was deposited in Swiss banks.
NEXT on Sunday, in its edition of May 3, 2009 detailed how three successive Nigerian leaders: the late Sani Abacha, Abdulsalam Abubakar, and Olusegun Obasanjo; former petroleum ministers; top officials of the Nigerian National Petroleum Commission (NNPC) including its former Group Managing Director, Gaius Obaseki; and the Peoples Democratic Party, had benefitted from the 180million dollar bribe.
The bribes which were paid over a period of ten years (1994-2004) were used to secure liquefied natural gas contracts worth $6billion by the consortium.
TSKJ, which was formed solely for the purpose of the contract, is made up of four companies. They are Technip, a French company which operates in Nigeria as Technip Offshore Nigeria Limited; Snamprogetti, an Italian company which is a subsidiary of the French oil giant ENI; Kellogg Brown and Roots which was then a subsidiary of Halliburton of the USA but is now an independent company called KBR and JGC corporation, a Japanese company.
Halliburton and KBR paid $579miilion to US agencies for the bribe payments made to Nigerian officials. Both companies have been investigated while the other companies involved are also being tried or investigated in their countries.
Jeffery Tesler, the British lawyer through whom the bribes were paid, is also in police custody in the United Kingdom for the bribes.
No hope in sight
Based on public pressure, the government on April 21 inaugurated a five-member committee headed by the Inspector General of Police, Mike Okiro, to probe the bribery scam.
The panel which is now being headed by the new Inspector General of Police, Ogbonnaya Onovo, also has, as members, the chairperson of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission; the head of the Nigerian Intelligence Agency; the National Security Adviser, and the head of the State Security Service.
Although last week the probe panel announced that it had secured French and Swiss visas for its members, it still has not got the translated documents needed to make any trip to those countries relevant. Nigerians will have to wait longer if they are ever to know which of their officials shared the funds from the Halliburton bribe.