Nigeria to drop Dick Cheney charges after plea bargain
Halliburton agrees to pay $250m in fines in lieu of prosecution over alleged multimillion-dollar bribes
David Smith in Port Harcourt
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 15 December 2010 19.42 GMT
Nigeria’s anti-corruption police have dropped charges against Dick Cheney, the former US vice-president, over a multi-million dollar bribery case after the energy firm Halliburton agreed to pay up to $250m (£161m) in fines.
The move followed the intervention of ex-president George Bush Sr and former secretary of state James Baker, according to Nigerian press reports.
The country’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) said it met officials representing Cheney and Halliburton in London last week after filing 16-count charges relating to the construction of a liquefied natural gas plant in the conflict-ridden Niger delta.
Femi Babafemi, a spokesman for the EFCC, said: “There was a plea bargain on the part of the company to pay $250m as fines in lieu of prosecution.”
The sum consists of $120m (£77m) in penalties and the repatriation of $130m (£83m) trapped in Switzerland, he added.
Babafemi said he expected Nigeria’s attorney general Mohammed Adoke to ratify the decision . “I can tell you authoritatively that an agreement has been reached.”
Several Nigerian newspapers added that Bush and Baker took part in negotiations through conference calls with Adoke and other officials, but Babafemi could not confirm this.
Houston-based engineering firm KBR, a former Halliburton unit, pleaded guilty last year to US charges that it paid $180m in bribes between 1994 and 2004 to Nigerian officials to secure $6bn in contracts for the Bonny Island liquefied natural gas project in the delta. KBR and Halliburton reached a $579m settlement in America but Nigeria, France and Switzerland have conducted their own investigations into the case.
Last week, the EFCC charged Halliburton chief executive David Lesar, Cheney, and two other executives. It also filed charges against Halliburton as a company, which was headed by Cheney during the 1990s, and four associated businesses.
Campaigners in the Niger delta expressed disappointment at the plea bargain. Celestine AkpoBari, programme officer at Social Action Nigeria, said: “I would have loved to see Dick Cheney in chains in our court and facing justice in our prisons. That would have been a very big point that would have lifted Nigeria out of its woes.”
Kentebe Ebiaridor, a project assistant at Environment Rights Action, suggested that Bush and Baker took part to protect America’s huge oil interests in the region. “They are trying not to jeopardise the relationship,” he said. “But if Dick Cheney is guilty, he should be brought to book.”