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A Nigerian Contract at the Heart of a Corruption Affair

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By Eric Decouty

Le Figaro
December 20, 2003


A judicial investigation has been opened with regard to "the bribery of a foreign public official", for the first time in France. It focuses notably on the French company Technip and the American Halliburton, which were associated in a Nigerian operation. Such an international inquiry is possible since the 1997 adoption of an OECD convention on the "fight against the corruption of foreign public officials in commercial negotiations" which came into effect in French law in 2000. It's within this new judicial framework that the Judge Renaud Van Ruymbeke is conducting his investigations and the Paris court contemplates an eventual indictment of the present United States' Vice President, Richard Cheney, in his capacity as former CEO of Halliburton. The investigations concern 180 million dollars of commissions paid on the occasion of a gas complex bid in Nigeria. The hypothesis of an eventual indictment of Dick Cheney is officially contemplated by French justice. According to projections of the case, he could be charged with "eventual complicity in supplying the means or the orders or the reception (of stolen goods)", for the misappropriation of public property. If such a prospect is not on the agenda, it is possible since the opening of the judicial inquiry October 8 for "the bribery of foreign public officials and misappropriation of public property" targeting the American company Kellogg Brown and Root (KBR) which is the principal subsidiary of Halliburton, known for having obtained more than 2 billion dollars worth of Iraq reconstruction contracts from the American government and over which Richard Cheney presided as CEO from 1995 to 2000. Concretely, Judge Renaud Van Ruymbeke is trying to identify the beneficiaries of 180 millions dollars of commissions paid during the bidding for a gas complex construction contract in Nigeria for an amount estimated at 6 billion dollars or three times that of Iraq….

Revealed by Le Figaro June 2, the affair may be summarized as follows: in the beginning of the 90s, the construction of one of the biggest gas liquefaction factories in the world was decided for the eastern part of the Niger delta, on Bonny Island. The initiator of the project- the realization of which is being pursued today-, Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) brought together four main shareholders: the Nigerian National Oil Company (49%), Shell (25.6%), TotalFinaElf (15%) and Agip International (10.4%). Shell remains the uncontested leader of the undertaking. In a second stage, four companies were designated to build the gigantic industrial complex. The French Technip, the Italian Snamprogetti, the American KBR, the Japanese JGC were consequently united in a joint venture dubbed TSKJ (for the four initials of the groups involved). But this structure was dominated by Halliburton's subsidiary. The story gets complicated in November 1994, with the creation by this consortium of a subsidiary on the Portuguese island of Madeira where all businesses are exempt from corporate taxes. This Portuguese subsidiary was dubbed LNG Servicos – Technip, KBR, Snamprogetti and JGC, all enjoying equal shares. However, LNG Servicos specifically, officially charged with the "administrative follow-up" of the file, would sign a series of commercial support contracts with another company, domiciled in Gibraltar and called Tri Star. The three principal contracts were concluded in 1995, December 2001 and June 2002 and determined the amounts for remuneration of Tri Star's services. In total, Tri Star received 180 million dollars. For what real service provided? That's what Judge Van Ruymbeke is trying to clarify. First certainty: the only Tri Star official is Jeffrey Tesler, a reputable London lawyer. However it appears that he was designated on KBR's sole authority. In a March 17 letter, William Chaudan, one of LNG Servicos' directors, presented as "very close" to Halliburton, writes: "Tri Star was engaged on KBR's recommendation over Technip's opposition (...). Jeffrey Tesler has a professional and personal relationship with KBR since the ‘80s; the two parties wanted to pursue their collaboration." In the same letter, Chaudan praises Tesler's qualities and, in particular, "the vast extent of his contacts, the result of thirty years' work in Nigeria where he counseled many prominent people." Technip, which wanted to impose another intermediary, therefore had to accept Halliburton's. But KBR's praises, however, do not explain why the American company and therefore, finally, the consortium, needed recourse to the services of a "commercial assistant" to which the Snamprogetti Italians would, besides, be opposed. Dan Etete, former Oil Minister to Nigeria's ex-dictator Sani Abacha, interrogated Thursday December 4 as a state's witness by Judge Van Ruymbeke, explained that in substance the overall control of this gas operation was under Shell and KBR, the first with responsibility for gas exploitation and the second with responsibility for the realization of the industrial complex. Dan Etete, who claimed that he "feared for his life", indicated that Shell and KBR were extremely well established in Nigeria and had close relationships with the ruling power. In consequence, he didn't see any necessity for them to have an intermediary. This statement confirms the two companies' stranglehold on the operations and reinforces the questions about the reality of Jeffrey Tesler's services, as well as those about the true purpose of the sums paid to him.

From this angle, Renaud Van Ruymbeke has launched double letters rogatory to Switzerland and Monaco about two of Jeffrey Tesler's bank accounts, through which the 180 million dollars transited. This way, the magistrate hopes to follow the thread back to the true beneficiaries of the funds. It is to be emphasized that during the first payments, the lawyer had indicated his UBP branch in Geneva account number to LNG Servicos before resorting to the Monaco account. A source close to the inquiry confirms that this change in banks coincides with the start of a judicial procedure in Switzerland targeting Sani Abacha's assets there. In fact, justice suspects that the English lawyer is the key man in a system of "corruption of foreign public officials", some part of the 180 million dollars having served to remunerate eminent Nigerians. This offence, created during the 1997 adoption of the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) convention on "the fight against bribery of foreign public officials in commercial negotiations", is being enforced for the first time since it came into effect in France in 2000. In this affair of presumed "international bribery" the only contract targeted is the one posterior to this date- that of June 2002-, a time when Dick Cheney had left Halliburton for the Vice-Presidency of the United States. However, Judge Renaud van Ruymbeke is also targeting the misappropriation of public property, including eventual kickbacks to certain members of the joint venture. In this framework, the magistrate will therefore be able to go back to the origin of the affair in 1995 and to the role played by each of the four companies. Neither the examination of state's witness Daniel Burlin, former Technip finance director, nor that of Jean Desseilligny, the General Manager, have brought significant elements to the investigating magistrate, the company's managers throwing all responsibility for the dubious set-up onto the Americans. In the next few days, the questioning of the French group's representatives in the Portuguese company LNG Servicos could turn out to be more fruitful. It seems, however, to be confirmed that the initiative and the establishment of the occult system of commissions essentially come from KBR- during a period when Dick Cheney presided over the Halliburton Group-, even if its associates could not have remained ignorant of what was going on. Could part of the money paid to Jeffrey Tesler been given to highly placed Americans or to American political groups? That's what Judge Renaud Van Ruymbeke must still verify. Consequently, events could accelerate in the coming weeks. The Technip entourage explained to Le Figaro that they knew nothing about an eventual bribery or misappropriation of funds, describing KBR as "a Halliburton sub-subsidiary" and asserting that Jeffrey Tesler had effected "remarkable and important work". In fact, the French group, associated with the American company in numerous other industrial operations around the world, contemplates the commercial consequences judicial developments against Halliburton or its subsidiary KBR could have with anxiety.

Translated from French by: Leslie Thatcher.


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FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C ß 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.