Davidson Iriekpen with agency report
New records obtained by the Paris-based Le Monde newspaper and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) have unveiled more details on the $182 million Halliburton bribery scandal in Nigeria that indicted several top government official, in the country who received the bribes, but for which no Nigerian was ever sent to jail.
Shockingly, the records have unearthed new Nigerian names never previously linked to the Halliburton scandal for which the US oil service giant was indicted by the US Securities and Exchange Commission and US Justice Department, and was compelled to pay fines running into hundreds of millions of dollars.
Those alleged to have received bribes from a British lawyer, Jeffrey Tesler, included former military head of state, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, his then chief of staff, Major-General Chris Garba (rtd), his wife, Rita, and Andrew Agom, a senior government official who was killed in an attack on a motorcade.
Starting with the narrative of Tesler, who served as the conduit between Halliburton's subsidiary KBR and Nigerian officials who were responsible for approving the $6 billion turnkey contract for the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) project in Bonny, Rivers State, the documents revealed how Tesler on one occasion dropped off a bag stuffed with $1 million in $100 dollar bills for an official at a foyer of a luxury hotel in Abuja.
“There is no day when I do not regret my weakness of character,” said the contrite British lawyer in a Houston courtroom. “I allowed myself to accept standards of behaviour in a business culture which can never be justified. I accepted the system of corruption that existed in Nigeria. I turned a blind eye to what was happening, and I am guilty of the offences charged.”
Tesler was speaking at the end of his 2012 sentencing hearing after pleading guilty to US corruption charges for his role in what became known as the “Halliburton bribery scandal”.
A network of secretive banks and offshore tax havens was used to funnel $182 million in bribes to Nigerian officials in exchange for $6 billion in engineering and construction work for an international consortium of companies that included a then Halliburton subsidiary.
In 2010, Nigeria indicted former US Vice-President Dick Cheney, who was CEO of Halliburton before he was elected, only to later clear him when Halliburton worked out a $35 million settlement.
Leaked records from HSBC, a huge global bank based in London, have revealed new details about the bank’s role as a conduit for the bribes — and new details about how Tesler operated.
The files, obtained by the French newspaper Le Monde and ICIJ, showed ties between Tesler and high-ranking Nigerians not previously named publicly in connection with the scandal, raising the possibility of renewed questions about Nigeria’s handling of the affair.
The Halliburton bribery scandal dates to 1994 when the Nigerian government launched ambitious plans to build the Bonny Island natural liquefied gas project.
Tesler was then, in his own words, “a simple lawyer” from North London. He grew from advising UK-based Nigerians on property deals to relishing his relationships with successive Nigerian military and civilian governments. Tesler began planning the bribe payments in 1994 and transferred small amounts of money through Switzerland in July 1996. But by 2003, his role had escalated.
In one brazen episode in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, Tesler directed the drop-off of a travel bag stuffed with $1 million in $100 bills in the foyer of a luxury hotel where the per-night cost of a suite can exceed the nation’s average annual income of $3,000. It was one of at least 20 money transfers that Tesler made or directed. The cash was destined for Nigeria’s ruling party via the state-owned oil and gas company, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), according to an official Nigerian report.
Months later, in April 2003, the governing party scored an overwhelming victory in an election marred by vote rigging, fraud and violence that led to the death of at least 100 people.
Switzerland’s famous bank secrecy laws encouraged Tesler to use the country as base for moving bribe money. And HSBC Private Bank (Suisse), with offices near luxury hotels in Geneva and Zurich, was his preferred bank. When US authorities seized 12 of Tesler’s Swiss accounts in 2013, five were with HSBC —more than any other bank.
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