Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Halliburton bribe suspects walk free after sloppy prosecution by EFCC

The trial of the Halliburton bribery suspects reached an anti-climax yesterday when a high court struck out the case against them because of sloppy prosecution by the EFCC.

Ibrahim Aliyu, Mohammed Gidado Bakari and four companies were standing trial over serving as conduits and receiving bribes in hard currency to facilitate natural gas contracts between 1994 and 2005.

Aliyu, a former Federal permanent secretary, was at the time chairman of contract award committee of the Bonny Liquefied Natural Gas, which awarded the contracts. The four companies are Urban Shelter Ltd, Intercellular Nigeria Ltd, Sherwood Petroleum Ltd and Tri-Star Investment Ltd.

The Halliburton bribery scandal gained international attention over the past years, and it led to convictions of companies and individuals in the U.S.

But the Abuja High Court yesterday said it was striking out the case against Aliyu and the others because of lack of diligent prosecution by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.

The accused had not appeared in court since the EFCC filed the case more than a year ago.

A leave for their arraignment was granted by the court on February 17, 2011. However, following their non-appearance to take their plea on January 23, the court warned it would strike out the case if the EFCC failed again to bring them to court.

When the case was called yesterday, Kauna Peziki of the EFCC applied for a bench warrant against the accused and requested for more time to prosecute the case.

In his ruling, Justice Abubakar Sadiq Umar said the prosecution has failed to diligently prosecute the case.

"The court has the duty to discharge its duties diligently; court business is a very serious business. Court should not be turned into a warehouse of keeping moribund cases," the judge said.

"It has been over a year now and still the EFCC is coming up with excuses; the EFCC should know that if it is not ready to prosecute and bring cases to conclusion, it should not apply for leave of court to arraign anybody," he added.

The Halliburton bribery case involved the funnelling of $180 million in bribes to Nigerian government officials to facilitate natural gas contracts valued at $6 billion.

In 2009, former Halliburton subsidiary, Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR), pleaded guilty and admitted that it paid $180 million in bribes to Nigerian officials to win the $6 billion contracts. Partner companies from Italy, France and Japan were also involved.

The bribes - some delivered in a briefcase stuffed with $100 bills - were paid to officials in Nigeria's executive branch as well as the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corp, the U.S. Justice Department said.

At various points, huge sums of money were wired through banks in Amsterdam and New York to accounts in Monaco and Switzerland.

In 2010, London lawyer Jeffrey Tesler, who served as conduit for sharing the bribes, and 72-year-old retired sales executive Wojciech Chodan were extradited from Britain to the US to face charges over the Halliburton case.

But in the same year, the Federal Government withdrew charges earlier filed at a high court in Abuja against Tesler as well as Julius Berger Nigeria Plc, George Mark, Hans George Christ, Heinrich J. Stockhausen and Bilfinger Berger GMBH.

Chodan pleaded guilty in December 2010, while Tesler also pleaded guilty in March last year. They were sentenced last month, along with ex-KBR chief Albert Stanley, who was also convicted in the bribery scam. Tesler, 63, received the harshest punishment of 21 months imprisonment.

In a reaction to the Abuja court ruling that stuck out the case against Aliyu and the others yesterday, the EFCC said it would consult with its legal team on the way forward.

"EFCC will study the ruling and seek legal advice from our counsel on the way forward," spokesman for the commission, Wilson Uwujaren, told Daily Trust.

Daily Trust

Related stories: Nigeria to charge Dick Cheney in $180 million bribery case, issue Interpol arrest warrant 

EFCC drops charges against Dick Cheney

KBR former CEO sentenced to 30 years in prison for bribing Nigerian officials

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