Thursday, April 9, 2009

Michael Aondoakaa and the Halliburton Bribery Scandal

The more I look into the unfolding events of the Halliburton bribery case, the less I tend to see. I can almost bet on my mortgage that no single Nigerian individual will be prosecuted. The recent comments by the nation’s Attorney-General Chief Michael Aondoakaa cast further doubts on the intent of the nation law enforcement agents to prosecute the culprits. Let’s remind ourselves, this is not first high-profile bribery case involving multi-national companies. We are yet to see any successful prosecution in the Wilbros and AG Siemens bribery cases. A former petroleum Minister was fined five million Euros in France for money laundering few weeks ago in the Wilbros case. However, as I write, no action has been taken by the either the AG or the EFCC to at least question this individual. Considering the track record of the President Yar’Adua ‘anti-corruption’ crusade and supposed adherence to ‘rule of law’, why would anyone think the Halliburton case will be any different.

As we can remember, the US Justice Department indicted two citizens of the United Kingdom for their role in bribing Nigerian government officials to win a lucrative natural gas construction contract for Halliburton Corp. Last September, the Former CEO of Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR) Jack Stanley pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud and conspiring to violate the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). The Justice Department noted that he paid more than $180 million in bribes to Nigerian government officials so KBR could win the Bonny Island liquefied natural gas plant contract.

Following these revelations, the Attorney-General (AG) and the Minister of Information have been very quick to make series of remarks and comments. The AG first noted that the government will sue all foreign companies involved in bribery cases in Nigeria for libel, because they have brought the name of the country into disrepute. Following that, the Minister of Information, Mrs Dora Akunyili noted that names of Nigerian officials indicted in the bribery case will be made public once received from the US Justice Dept. We were also led to believe that the AG has written to the US Justice dept three times regarding the indicted officials, but yet to receive any reply.

I will note that all sorts of names have been banded around in the media. I’m not interested to join in the speculations about who is or who is not involved. However, I want to advise the AG that he does less talking for now, as some of the comments he has been making recently can be considered to be ‘prejudicial’. The bribery case is still under investigation in Nigeria and therefore it is improper for him to be making such remarks and the nation’s Chief Law Officer.

The remarks being made by the AG, are the reasons why I want to believe that nothing will be achieved in this investigation, and the AG might only be paying a lip service to the ‘fight against corruption’. According to the AG, $150 million of the alleged bribe has been discovered in a Swiss account. While he refused to name the account holder, he was quoted as saying “…..government does not prosecute out of the newspapers' cuttings. If somebody said I voted $40 million for you, which is his own wish, and if the money does not reach you, can I come and prosecute you because in his book he wrote $40 million”. I find this statement damaging and insidious, and could potentially derail the current investigation.

I accept that the government cannot initiate prosecution based on newspaper reports and that ‘hard evidence’ is required. And in actual fact, the ‘burden of proof’ is on the government to demonstrate beyond every reasonable doubt that any named suspect was actually involved in the alleged bribery. You may call me a conspiracy theorist but I want to draw one important thing from that statement, which proves to me that the so-called AG/EFCC investigation is joke.

Initially, we were told that at least more than six top Nigerian officials were involved in the bribery scandal. But now, the AG noted the $150million has been discovered in one account. According the AG’s tone of language, he wants us to believe that the money might have been pocketed by someone. Also, that all named suspects might not even have collected any bribe in the first place, and the fact that they were named in the US trial is not good enough.

But my question is why the AG is so quick to jump to such conclusion? On whose behalf is he actually acting? The fact that there is no evidence to show that Mr X was paid A$million does not mean he is not guilty of the charge. The first thing that should be established in this investigation is ‘intent’. If Mr X has agreed to receive A$million, and for some reason he couldn’t be paid then he is culpable.

My concern is that the ongoing investigation will be based on whether money was actually received by the suspected individuals. As we can see with $150 million found in one person account, there is already a presumption of innocence. I agree that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. However it is for this reason why I think the AG should at least keep his mouth shut! This case is not just about money being paid or received. For the KBR officials to have named the Nigerian officials, there must have some form of agreement to collect and transmit bribes. By the way, the KBR officials are not Nigerians, and what do they stand to gain from name dropping? It is my understanding that KBR established a highly sophisticated network, which facilitated the bribe payments over a number of years. Therefore the evidence and statement provided at the US court is very crucial to the Nigerian investigation.

I’m not convinced that there is no ulterior motive to bury this case. My suspicion is, the investigation will only focus on the account holder. And since EFCC or the AG will not be interested in establishing whether there’s been collusion or intent to receive bribes, the major actors in the bribery scandal will be absolved from any wrongdoing.

Whatever be the case, the whole world is watching.

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