Lagos — OIL Minister in the Abacha regime, Chief Dan Etete was yesterday sentenced to three years in prison and fined 300,000 euros ($440,000) in France for money laundering.
The Paris criminal court also issued an arrest warrant for Etete, who served from 1995 to 1998, and is currently living in Britain.
Etete was convicted of using 15 million euros obtained fraudulently to purchase properties in 1999 and 2000 including a chateau in northwest France, a Paris apartment and a luxury villa in the chic Paris suburb of Neuilly.
Etete's accomplice, French businessman Richard Granier-Defferre, was convicted of complicity and sentenced to 12 months in jail and a fine of 150,000 euros.
The French court ordered Etete to pay 150,000 euros to Nigeria in compensation for moral prejudice and 20,000 euros in fees.
During the brief trial in September, Etete's lawyer said his client had acquired the properties through legal investment companies.
Judge van Ruymbeke believes that some or all of $180 million in secret "retrocommissions" paid by Halliburton and Technip were bribes given to Nigerian officials and others to grease the wheels for the refinery's construction.
Reports say van Ruymbeke fingered as the bagman in the operation, a 55-year-old London lawyer, Jeffrey Tesler, who has worked for Halliburton for some 30 years.
It was Tesler who was paid the $180 million as a "commercial consultant" through a Gibraltar-based front company he set up called TriStar. TriStar, in turn, got the money from a consortium set up for the Nigeria deal by Halliburton and Technip and registered in Madeira, the Portuguese offshore island where taxes don't apply.
According to Agence France-Presse, a former top Technip official, Georges Krammer, testified that the Madeira-based consortium was a "slush fund" controlled by Halliburton-through its subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root-and Technip. Krammer, who is cooperating with the investigation, also swore that Tesler was imposed as the intermediary by Halliburton over the objections of Technip.
Tesler is a veteran operator in Nigeria. He was financial adviser to the late General Sani Abacha and controlled his personal fortune, while at the same time working for Halliburton.
According to the Journal du Dimanche (a large Sunday paper), Etete's testimony seemed to confirm the judge's suspicions that Tesler laundered the $180 million through offshore and other accounts, and that part of the money wound up in Abacha's coffers.
Tesler's bank accounts in Monaco, Switzerland and elsewhere have been subpoenaed in an effort to find out where the money went.
Judge van Ruymbeke's authority for his transnational investigation comes from a law France passed in 2000 against "bribing foreign officials," following its ratification of a convention adopted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development prohibiting bribe-giving in the course of commercial transactions.