Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Nigeria Drops Charges Against Halliburton After U.S. Warning

Nigeria Drops Charges Against Halliburton After U.S. Warning

First Pfizer, now KBR, walk away from civil and criminal liability after financial pay-offs

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire

Halliburton Corporation became a household word in the United States in the aftermath of the ascendancy of the Bush administration in the stolen elections of 2000. Former Vice-President Dick Cheney served as a CEO of the firm during 1995-2000, which, along with its subsidiary, Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR), won lucrative government contracts during the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.

In late November the Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) conducted raids on offices inside the country that were affiliated with KBR, which is no longer formally associated with Halliburton since 2007, and arrested 23 nationals and foreigners on alleged bribery charges involving $US180 million. The charges related to bribes paid by Halliburton/KBR officials for the awarding of contracts in connection with the Bonny Island liquefied natural gas project in the resource-rich Niger Delta region of Nigeria.

Other firms associated with the criminal investigation in Nigeria include Technip SA, Europe’s second largest oilfield services provider, ENI SpA, Italy’s biggest oil company and Saipem Construction Co., a unit of ENI.

Yet on Dec. 17 it was announced by the EFCC that the charges against Dick Cheney and Halliburton/KBR were being dropped in exchange for the payment of $US250 million in fines to the Nigerian government. The decision prompted much consternation in Nigeria, Africa most populous state, which just recently, dropped a civil lawsuit as well against Pfizer pharmaceutical company in exchange for the payment of $US75 million to the government.

The EFCC said that it reached the settlement in London when the anti-corruption agency met with lawyers and other unnamed officials who were representing Cheney and Halliburton/KBR. The oil and natural gas service engineering firm had maintained that there was no legal basis for the criminal charges although it did agree to turn over $US250 million to the Nigerian government.

Even though KBR had admitted last year to paying out the bribes to officials during a period spanning 1994-2004, it has sought to avoid criminal prosecution in the United States, France, Switzerland as well as in Nigeria. In the U.S., KBR has reportedly paid out a $579 million settlement to avoid convictions and prison time for its executives. (Al Jazeera, Dec. 17)

Other firms associated with the bribery scandal also paid fines in the United States. In a recent article published in the Times of Nigeria, it states that “Panalpina, Royal Dutch Shell and five oil-services companies agreed to pay $236.5 million to resolve a U.S. probe of overseas bribery, the Justice said on Nov. 4. (Times of Nigeria, Dec. 1)

“The bribes were paid to expedite the import of goods and equipment, avoid customs duties on imported goods, extend drilling contracts and lower tax assessments, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission.”

The EFFC however, is still pursuing criminal complaints against Nigerian nationals and others associated with the bribery scandal. After the announcement of the agreement between the EFCC and Halliburton/KBR, the Houston-based firm refused to comment on the deal but has said in the past that “the actions of the Nigerian government suggest that its officials are wildly and wrongly asserting blame in this matter.” (Al Jazeera, Dec. 17)

Deal Comes After Official Warning From the U.S. State Department

Just one week prior to the announcement that the criminal charges against Cheney and Halliburton/KBR were being dropped, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Johnnie Carson, had specifically addressed the charges in a briefing to international journalists in Washington. Carson said that Nigeria should “carefully review the 16-count corruption allegations made against a former U.S. vice-president, Dick Cheney, in the Halliburton bribe-for-contract scandal.” (Nigeria Tribune, Dec. 11)

According to the Nigeria Tribune, “Carson said in the statement that review was necessary to ensure that the allegations were not politically motivated, as opposed to a legitimate legal matter. Carson said the charges laid should be carefully and deeply substantiated as they were ‘very serious.’”

In addition to calling for a review of the charges against Cheney and Halliburton/KBR by the Nigerian government, Carson said that “the U.S. authorities had been following the case closely and had spoken to the Nigerian authorities about it.” The chief magistrate of the Nigerian High Court in Abuja had been approached by the EFCC in order to have warrants issued against Cheney and other officials so they would appear in court for trial.

Oil Industry Key to Nigerian-U.S. Relations

For many Nigerians the dropping of the charges against Cheney and the Halliburton/KBR firm is not surprising since the country has been the focus of a number of recent high-profile criminal cases that have been discharged after multi-million dollar settlements with the federal government.

The pharmaceutical giant Pfizer was recently allowed to avoid potential liability in a $US6 billion lawsuit by the Nigerian Attorney General involving the use of tainted antibiotics in a purported “clinical trial” of the drug Trovan, which was used for the treatment of meningitis. The lawsuit alleged that the drug caused the deaths of 11 children and the sickening of dozens of others, yet the claim was dropped after pressure was exerted by the U.S. firm which settled the case for a mere $US 75 million.

A local organization, the Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria, severely criticized the decision by the EFCC to drop the charges against Cheney and Halliburton/KBR. In a statement from the National Coordinator Emmanual Onwubiko and the National Director of Media Affairs, Ms. Zainab Yusuf, the group said “President Goodluck Jonathan, through the office of the federal attorney-general and minister of justice had set a bad precedent which conveyed the impression that corruption thrived in Nigeria provided you were clever enough not to be caught or buoyant enough to settle out of court if eventually caught.” (Nigeria Punch, Dec. 20)

However, the unrest that has arisen from the exploitation and oppression of the people in Niger Delta has continued despite the failure of the federal government to take serious action against multi-national corporations that commit crimes against the people of Nigeria. The U.S. energy firm Chevron announced on Dec. 20 that it was suspending production from an oil pipeline that was damaged three days before. (Reuters, Dec. 20)

Chevron said that it was investigating the sabotage of the Dibi-Abiteye pipeline, which supplies oil to the Escravos stream. The pipeline reportedly produces 123,000 barrels of crude oil per day.

An organization calling itself the Niger Delta Liberation Force (NDLF) claimed responsibility for the attack on the Chevron facility. As a result of the escalation of attacks against oil facilities in the Niger Delta, crude oil production has declined in recent years in Nigeria, despite a 2009 amnesty program aimed at ending militant activity in the region.

Prior to 2009, Nigeria was Africa’s largest exporter of oil into the United States. However, in 2009, it was reported that the southern African nation of Angola had surpassed Nigeria as the leading exporter to the U.S.

During the month of December, Nigeria’s oil export to the United States dropped by 17.6 percent. With the failure of the federal government to curb militant activity against the oil industry, this trend will likely continue.

Despite the billions of dollars in profits generated annually through the exploitation of Nigerian oil and natural gas, the overall living conditions of the workers and farmers have worsened since the advent of the world economic crisis. In a recent column by Moses John published in the Nigerian Leadership newspaper, the writer states that “the condition of the Nigerian worker has worsened over the years is no longer an issue, the issue is that Nigeria has the required resources to turn around the situation.” (Nigeria Leadership, Dec. 20)

John goes on to point out that ”The labor movement in Nigeria began its latest demands for a new National Minimum Wage and general wage review two years ago. After one year of deliberations and negotiations all stakeholders, including Federal and state governments as well as employers and labor, agreed on the paltry minimum wage of N18,000.”

According to John, “For this reason, among others, Nigeria is rated among the poorest nations of the world. This disgraceful condition of widespread poverty amidst a vast ocean of material prosperity breeds frustration, anger and hatred from the impoverished sections of the populace.”

Such a set of circumstances therefore requires that the Nigerian people organize on a national level to take control of their government and the natural resources of the country. When this occurs the U.S. government and the multi-national corporations that prop it up, will inevitably be held accountable for the horrendous crimes committed in the interests of profit and economic control.

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