Cheney faces charges over Halliburton deal

LONDON: Nigerian anti-corruption police are to charge former US vice-president Dick Cheney over a $US180 million ($184 million) bribery case involving the energy company Halliburton.

The move follows an inquiry into the construction of a liquefied natural gas plant in the conflict-ridden Niger Delta.

Halliburton's top official in Nigeria has been summoned and 10 of its Nigerian and expat staff detained for questioning after a raid on its office in Lagos. Mr Cheney was head of Halliburton before becoming George W. Bush's vice-president in 2001.

''We are filing charges against Cheney,'' Femi Babafemi, a spokesman for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, said on Thursday. The charges were likely to be brought next week. He declined to give any further details on what the charges were or where they would be filed.

A lawyer for Mr Cheney has dismissed any allegations as ''entirely baseless''. ''Any suggestion of misconduct on his part, made now, years later, is entirely baseless,'' the lawyer, Terrence O'Donnell, said in a statement that emphasised US authorities had investigated the joint venture at the core of the charges.

''The Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission investigated that joint venture extensively and found no suggestion of any impropriety by Dick Cheney in his role of CEO of Halliburton,'' he said.

The Houston engineering firm KBR, formerly part of Halliburton, pleaded guilty last year to US 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 project in the Niger Delta. KBR and Halliburton reached a $579 million settlement in the US but Nigeria, France and Switzerland have conducted their own investigations into the case.

Halliburton split from KBR in 2007 and has said that its current operations in Nigeria are unrelated. It has described the commission raid as ''an affront against justice'', said its offices were ransacked and personnel assaulted, and pledged to defend its staff against ''completely false and outrageous actions''.

''As indicated in previous legal activity in the United States, one of the participants in the [Bonny Island] project was a subsidiary of Halliburton Company for part of that period of time,'' it said.

''The Halliburton oil field services operations in Nigeria have never in any way been any part of the LNG project and none of the Halliburton employees have ever had any connection to or participation in that project.''

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. Albert ''Jack'' Stanley, a former KBR chief executive who had worked under Mr Cheney when he headed Halliburton, pleaded guilty in 2008 to charges stemming from a scheme to bribe Nigerian officials.

Nigeria will hold presidential elections in April. Some analysts have suggested the sudden revival of interest in the Halliburton case is no coincidence. The incumbent President, Goodluck Jonathan, faces a challenge for the ruling party nomination from former vice-president Atiku Abubakar, who was in office between 1999 and 2007. Mr Abubakar's opponents have tried to link him to the Halliburton case, allegations he has dismissed as a smear campaign.

He was quoted in September as saying there was no evidence against him. ''This is just the work of political opponents who will stop at nothing,'' he said.

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