After U.S. warning: Nigeria drops charges against Halliburton, Cheney
Dec 23, 2010
After the George Bush-Dick Cheney ticket stole the 2000 presidential elections, Halliburton Corporation became a household word in the United States. Vice President Cheney had been Halliburton’s CEO during 1995-2000. With its subsidiary, Kellogg, Brown and Root, Halliburton won lucrative government contracts during the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.
In late November the Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission raided KBR-affiliated offices inside the country and arrested 23 Nigerians and foreigners, charging them with bribery involving $180 million. KBR is no longer formally associated with Halliburton since 2007. The charges involve alleged bribes paid by Halliburton/KBR officials to win contracts to develop 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 the EFCC announced that charges against Dick Cheney and Halliburton/KBR were being dropped in exchange for the payment of $250 million in fines to the Nigerian government. The decision prompted much consternation in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous state, which just recently dropped a civil lawsuit against Pfizer pharmaceutical company in exchange for the payment of $75 million to the government.
The EFCC said that it reached the settlement in London at meetings with lawyers and other officials representing Cheney and Halliburton/KBR. 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 U.S., France and 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 U.S. “Panalpina, Royal Dutch Shell and five oil-services companies agreed to pay $236.5 million to resolve a U.S. probe of overseas bribery.” (Times of Nigeria, Dec. 1)
The EFFC is still pursuing criminal complaints against Nigerian nationals and others associated with the bribery scandal.
Deal follows State Dept. warning
Just one week before the charges were dropped, U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs, Johnnie Carson, said at a press briefing 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.” Carson indicated that the U.S. was speaking to Nigerian authorities about the case and wanted the case to be reviewed and the charges to be carefully and deeply substantiated as they were “very serious.” (Nigeria Tribune, Dec. 11)
The Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria severely criticized the decision on Halliburton, saying, “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)
Nigeria has been the focus of a number of recent high profile criminal cases that have been discharged after multimillion dollar settlements.
The pharmaceutical giant Pfizer was recently allowed to avoid potential liability in a $6 billion lawsuit involving the use of tainted antibiotics in a purported “clinical trial” of the drug Trovan, used to treat meningitis. The lawsuit alleged that the drug caused the deaths of 11 children and sickened dozens of others. The Nigerian attorney general dropped the claim after Pfizer exerted pressure and managed to settle for a mere $75 million.
Oil industry key to Nigerian-U.S. relations
Unrest arising from the exploitation and oppression of the people in the Niger Delta has continued. 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. Chevron said that it was investigating the sabotage of the Dibi-Abiteye pipeline, which transports 123,000 barrels of crude oil per day. (Reuters, Dec. 20)
The Niger Delta Liberation Force 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 U.S. Now Angola is. 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. A recent column by Moses John published Dec. 20 in the Nigerian Leadership newspaper reports that though the Nigerian labor movement began its latest demands for a new national minimum wage two years ago, the results were small.
John continued: “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.”
These conditions require 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 multinational corporations that prop it up will inevitably be held accountable for the horrendous crimes committed in the interests of profit and economic control.