Nigeria graft agency charges Cheney, Halliburton boss

LAGOS Tue Dec 7, 2010 3:01pm EST

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LAGOS (Reuters) - Nigeria's anti-corruption agency filed charges against former U.S. vice president Dick Cheney and the head of oil services giant Halliburton Co on Tuesday over an alleged scheme to bribe Nigerian officials.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) said it had filed 16-count charges at a federal high court in Abuja against Cheney, Halliburton Chief Executive David Lesar and two other executives, in a case dating back to the mid-1990s.

It also filed charges against Halliburton as a company, which was headed by Cheney during the 1990s, and four associated businesses. Cheney was U.S. vice president from 2001 to 2009.

"Charges have been filed against Dick Cheney and eight others (individual and entities)," EFCC spokesman Femi Babafemi said.

Houston-based engineering firm KBR, a former Halliburton unit, pleaded guilty last year to U.S. charges that it paid $180 million in bribes between 1994 and 2004 to Nigerian officials to secure $6 billion in contracts for the Bonny Island liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in the Niger Delta.

KBR and Halliburton reached a $579 million settlement in the United States. But Nigeria, France and Switzerland have conducted their own investigations into the case.

Halliburton, which sold KBR in 2007, said it had not seen the charges but repeated that its current operations in Nigeria -- raided by the EFCC last month -- are not involved.

"It is still our position that Halliburton was not involved in the project to which this bribery investigation relates and there is no legal basis for charges against Halliburton in relation to that project," spokeswoman Tara Mullee said.

Those charged in Nigeria include KBR Chief Executive Officer William Utt and former KBR CEO Albert "Jack" Stanley, who worked under Cheney when he headed Halliburton and pleaded guilty in 2008 to U.S. charges related to the case.

Reading from the charge sheet, Babafemi said the executives were accused of conspiring to make a $132 million payment "for the purpose of the gratification of public officials."

In a statement, KBR said Utt had only joined the firm in February 2006, after the alleged offences took place, and that the rest of its executive team was appointed thereafter.

"The actions of the Nigerian government suggest that its officials are wildly and wrongly asserting blame in this matter," KBR said, adding it would "vigorously defend itself."

POLITICAL MOTIVATION?

Halliburton said last year it had "reason to believe" payments may have been made to Nigerian officials by agents of its TSKJ consortium, which built the Bonny Island facility.

As well as KBR, the TSKJ consortium included France's Technip SA, Italy's Snamprogetti -- a unit of Italian oilfield services company Saipem, whose parent company is Eni -- and Japan's JGC Corp.

Among the entities named in the Nigerian charge sheet alongside Halliburton and KBR are Halliburton's Nigerian unit, the TSKJ consortium and TSKJ Nigeria, Babafemi said.

"I don't imagine someone would pull out a sell recommendation on Halliburton over this, especially since this goes back a number of years," said Mike Breard, energy analyst at Hodges Capital Management in Dallas, Texas.

"It's a huge company and it's not going to have that much impact on them if they have to pay some kind of court costs or a fine," he told Reuters.

Some analysts have suggested the sudden revival of interest in the Halliburton case is linked to Nigerian politics.

Nigeria will hold a presidential election in April. Incumbent Goodluck Jonathan faces a challenge for the ruling party nomination from former vice president Atiku Abubakar, who was in office between 1999 and 2007.

Abubakar's opponents have in the past tried to link him to the case, allegations he has dismissed as a smear campaign.

He was quoted in September as saying there was no evidence against him and that nobody in the United States or elsewhere had sought to question him on the matter.

(For more Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: af.reuters.com/ )

(Additional reporting by Anna Driver in Houston and Ed Stoddard in Dallas; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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