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2004-01-06

Cheney Facing Prosecution In France For Halliburton Gas Deal In Nigeria

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A French prosecutor is examining whether to prosecute Vice President Dick Cheney over suspected complicity in the abuse of corporate assets when he was head of Halliburton. At the time, Halliburton was supplying a gas complex in Nigeria. [includes transcript]

A French prosecutor is examining whether to prosecute Vice President Dick Cheney over suspected complicity in the abuse of corporate assets dating from the time he was head of the services company Halliburton. The case stems from a contract by a consortium including the American company Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR), a Halliburton subsidiary, and a French company, Technip, to supply a gas complex to Nigeria.

Since October, a Paris magistrate has been investigating complaints that $180 million was paid in secret commissions from the late 1990s to 2002 from funds established by the consortium. Cheney was Halliburton’s chief executive from 1995 to 2000.

In a letter to the attorney general’s department, magistrate Reynaud van Ruymbeke ruled out directly prosecuting Cheney on a charge of bribing foreign officials but he did not exclude prosecution on the grounds of complicity in the misuse of corporate assets.

  • Doug Ireland, is a longtime contributor to The Nation magazine. His latest Nation piece is "Will the French Indict Cheney?" He has been a columnist for the Village Voice, the New York Observer and the Paris daily Liberation. He is also a contributing editor of POZ, the monthly for the HIV-positive community.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We go now to Doug Ireland, a long-time contributor to the Nation magazine, his latest piece is called, "Will the French Indict Cheney?" Welcome to Democracy Now!.

DOUG IRELAND: Good morning.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Well, can you tell us the background behind this case?

DOUG IRELAND: Well, one of France’s most prominent investigating magistrates, a chap named Renaud van Ruymbeke was investigating a bribery case involving the oil giant Elf. In the course of deposing officers of a French oil engineering company called Technip, he stumbled across the case of a $6 billion liquid gas refinery in Nigeria that had been built by — you have to excuse me, I have a bit of a cold — that had been built by Technip and Halliburton. One of the officers of Technip described to the investigation how screen companies had been set up in Gibraltar and Madeira to establish a slush fund which would be used to pay bribes to primarily Nigerian officials under the Abacha dictatorship at the time in Nigeria. Nigeria, as you may know, is rated the second most corrupt country in the world, after Bangladesh. There is a new French law allowing transnational prosecutions of this sort, and it is under that law that this bribery investigation is being pursued, and it is not out of the question that Dick Cheney, who was the president of Halliburton during the time that the $180 million in bribes were alleged to have been given, could be indicted for a series of crimes, including misuse of corporate assets, bribery, and money laundering.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, what about Cheney directly, and the fact that he is Vice President of the United States. Does he enjoy any kind of immunity?

DOUG IRELAND: Not under French law, or the international authority for this investigation, which comes from a convention passed by the OECD, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which prohibits bribe-giving in the course of commercial transactions. The French ratified that convention, and then passed a law to give it the force of French Law. So, there is competent legal international authority to pursue officials of other governments. One of the targets of the investigation, who is a suspected recipient of the bribe money, is the former Nigerian oil minister under the Abacha dictatorship. A great deal of the money is supposed to have gone to dictator General Abacha himself, the alleged bag man in the deal. A London lawyer named Jeffrey Tesler, who has been operating in Nigeria for some 30 years, was Abacha’s personal financial adviser. At the same time, this lawyer had a three-decades-old relationship, working closely with Halliburton. It is through this lawyer that the investigating judge believes that the bribe money was laundered in the form of "secret commissions" paid after the sale — after the construction of the factory — called "retrocommissions." But in fact, these monies were laundered by this lawyer who was both Halliburton’s lawyer, and the financial adviser to the Abacha dictatorship at the same time.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Doug Ireland who has a piece in this week’s Nation called "Will the French Indict Cheney?" What about the geopolitics of this? Will the French government allow this?

DOUG IRELAND: The investigating magistrate, who is conducting the investigation, is notoriously independent. He came to fame in France during the massive corruption scandals involving the secret corporate financing of political parties of both the right and the left in France during the 1990’s, and targeted politicians and parties of all shades of the political spectrum. So, having followed van Ruymbeke, the judge’s career for some years, I would be rather surprised if this were something which would be subject to pressure that van Ruymbeke would accept on the part of the Chirac government. The Chirac government is undoubtedly not unhappy to see a little heartburn given to the Vice President of the United States, given the fact that the United States has been cancelling the ability of the French to participate in the Iraq construction contracts of the kind that Halliburton, for example, has profited from so handsomely. But I don’t believe that the investigation is either inspired by or controlled by the Chirac government.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Doug Ireland, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Doug Ireland is the author of the piece in the latest Nation magazine called, "Will the French Indict Cheney?" You are listening to Democracy Now!.

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