The Securities and Exchange Commission has finally opened a formal investigation into allegations that Halliburton (in partnership with French petro-engineering company Technip) funneled $180 million into a slush fund to pay bribes in the construction of a $6 billion Nigerian gas refinery–a scandal that French authorities have been probing for a year (for background, see Doug Ireland, “Will the French Indict Cheney?” December 29, 2003).
The energy conglomerate formerly headed by Dick Cheney disclosed the SEC probe (as it was required to do by law for any legal action potentially affecting the company’s stock) on June 11. The timing of the disclosure was no accident–it was a Friday, the last day of the interminable Reagan funeral ceremonies, and Wall Street was thus closed. The national press corps focused on little else but the burial, so the SEC investigation got scant attention in the weekend papers (even the New York Times ran only a brief AP dispatch on its website).
Although the US media have shown little interest in the story, the investigation of the Halliburton Nigeria scandal by France’s most celebrated investigating magistrate, Judge Renaud Van Ruymbeke, has continued making headlines in Paris–where the latest revelations bring the scandal right to the front door of Halliburton’s Houston headquarters.
The Journal du Dimanche (JDD, a large Sunday paper) revealed on June 13 that Judge Van Ruymbeke’s investigation has uncovered how Albert “Jack” Stanley, the president of huge Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR) at the time of the alleged bribery, received so-called “commissions” of 3 percent of the deal from the slush fund. The total amount Stanley received is some $5 million, according to reports in the International Herald Tribune and elsewhere. The Nigerian oil minister at the time, Dan Entete, got $2.5 million, reported the JDD. The slush fund was set up with Halliburton money by a London lawyer, Jeffrey Tesler–who worked for Halliburton at the same time he was financial adviser to the notoriously corrupt late Nigerian dictator Gen. Sani Abacha–as a shell-company front called TriStar, which Tesler established in the British tax haven of Gibraltar. Stanley, the 5 Million Dollar Man, is a close friend and associate of Dick Cheney.
In mid-May, after Judge Van Ruymbeke threatened to issue an international warrant to bring Tesler to France to testify, Tesler “voluntarily” came to Paris for two days of testimony under oath. Confronted by Van Ruymbeke with documents obtained through international search warrants targeting banks in Switzerland, Monaco, Madeira and elsewhere, Tesler admitted having made the highly unusual payments from the slush fund to then-KBR president Stanley, which Stanley had sent to a numbered bank account in Zurich baptized “Amal” (according to the French weekly Le Canard Enchaîné). Another huge payment of $350,000 was made to a top KBR executive, William Chaudran, which Chaudran had routed to an anonymous bank account in the island fiscal paradise of Jersey, Tesler testified. (Stanley, who is retired from KBR but maintains an office and secretary in Halliburton-KBR’s Houston headquarters, did not return calls requesting comment, and neither did Halliburton-KBR’s flack, Wendy Hall.)
The obvious question is: If the payments to the KBR execs were legitimate, why route them through secret foreign bank accounts? And where did the rest of the $180 million go? To the dictator Abacha, whose money adviser Tesler was, and other Abacha cronies?
Statements given by Halliburton to Le Figaro and other French papers covering the scandal claim the conglomerate had no knowledge of the payments to the KBR execs–and appeared to be setting up Stanley as the fall guy. Then, late on June 18 (another Friday), Halliburton abruptly announced it was severing all ties with Stanley, who was still a consultant to the company, accusing him of “receiving improper personal benefits.” While this is a valiant attempt to keep the scandal from touching Cheney, it begs the question: Where did the rest of the $180 million go, and how could Cheney ignore the setting up of the slush fund with so much of the conglomerate’s money–and its use?
The final contract for construction of the Nigeria refinery, one of the world’s largest, was signed in 1999, on Cheney’s watch (Cheney was CEO of Halliburton from 1995 to 2000). Bribes of the sort under investigation by the SEC and the French are illegal under statutes of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, of whose international conventions both the United States and France are signatories-members; and under the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. In disclosing the SEC investigation, Halliburton said it did not believe it had violated the FCPA, while adding, “There can be no assurance that government authorities would not conclude otherwise.”