Lagos — An Abuja High Court has ruled that the House of Representatives Committee on Public Petition, currently investigating the alleged payment of $180 million bribe by Halliburton and TSKJ consortium for LNG contracts, be allowed access to the accounts of some of the suspects in the bribe scandal.
The court, presided over by Justice I.U. Bello, also requested the Judge of the French Tribunal that first launched the probe, Hon. Justice Van- Ruymbeke, to allow the committee inspect documents relating to evidence deposed to the tribunal by former Nigerian oil minister, Chief Dan Etete, as well as those of Halliburton and the TSKJ consortium.
The Tribunal De Grande Instance De Paris first launched investigation in October 2003, into allegations that the TSKJ consortium paid illegal commissions amounting to $180 million to Nigerian government officials to win the $4 billion Bonny Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) contract in 1995.
The House Committee on Public Petition took up the investigation early in 2004. Last September, the committee summoned principal officers involved at the early stage of the LNG project, including another former petroleum minister, Don Etiebet and former chairman of the Nigeria LNG Limited (NLNG), Alhaji M. D. Yusufu.
THISDAY checks revealed that following an alleged uncooperative attitude of the companies and persons indicted in the bribery scandal, the Committee Chairman, Hon. Chudi Offodile, filed an ex-parte motion with the Abuja court late last year. He sought the court's order to request the French Judge to allow the committee inspect the documents in the case file of the Halliburton/TSKJ consortium, statements made by Etete and the chief suspect in the case, one Jerffery Tesler believed to have made the payments on behalf of the consortium to the Nigerian officials.
In his ruling, Justice Bello directed that the French Judge should:
- Let the applicant or his counsel inspect the documents/case files in the Halliburton/ TSKJ bribery allegations involving one Jerffery Tesler and others
- The Bank Accounts of Jeffery Tesler and Tristar (payments from Tesler's Accounts)
- The Testimony of Tesler
- The Testimony of Mr. Dan Etete,
- Wojcek Chodan's Note Books, and
- Any other relevant documents/materials or Information that will assist the investigation on the case file.
Speaking to THISDAY on the development, Offodile said access to the documents requested for would go a long way in helping the House to quickly conclude its probe of the bribery allegation.
Offodile however, added that the Committee has been having problems on how to serve the court ruling on the French Judge, Ruymbeke. According to him, the French Embassy in Lagos had blocked all efforts to effect the transmission of the court ruling.
"We have delivered a copy of the judgment as certified by our lawyers, through couriers to the French Embassy but till date they have not acknowledged receipt of the document," he said.
Officials of the embassy were not immediately available for comment on the allegation.
Last month, the Swiss judicial authorities blocked bank accounts containing $100 million, which were linked to the $180 million bribe.
The freezing of the account was imposed after the same French court asked Switzerland to grant judicial assistance for its investigation in the case.
The four partners in the TSKJ consortium were M.W. Kellogg Co., a subsidiary of Dresser Industries; Technip SA of France; ENI SpA of Italy; and Japan Gasoline Corp.
After the TKSJ consortium was formed, the consortium in turn, created a subsidiary, LNG Services based on the Portugese island of Madeira, a place where tax laws exempt businesses.
LNG Servicos, in turn, paid $180 million to yet another entity called
Tristar (Gibralter--a British tax haven) for unspecified services.
US oil services giant Halliburton acquired Dresser in 1998 and combined its Brown & Root subsidiary with M.W. Kellogg to form engineering and construction unit KBR.
The consortium got other contracts for the construction of the third, fourth, fifth and sixth trains of the Bonny LNG plant between 1999 and 2004.
Halliburton has disclosed in a regulatory filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission that improper payments to Nigerian officials might have been made in order to win the LNG contract. The company also said that US officials have issued subpoenas to current and former employees of Kellogg Brown & Root, its engineering and construction unit.
Halliburton said that based on its own internal investigation, as well as continuing government probes, "payments may have been made to Nigerian officials".