Three years after he left office, former President Olusegun Obasanjo is under the heat to explain his alleged involvement in the sensational Halliburton bribe scandal. Disturbed by media reports linking him with the scandal, Obasanjo has written a letter to President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan over all he knew and the actions he took against the mess while in office.
Recall that on 18 April 2010, a Nigeria’s Daily Newspaper reported that the Okiro panel set up by former President, Umaru Yar’adua concluded that Obasanjo, Atiku and Kupolokun Got U.S.$74 Million of the Halliburton bribe.
The Okiro internal inquiry reportedly shows that government officials including former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the man who trumpeted an anti-corruption hurricane benefited from the Halliburton bribery scandal that swept away the jobs, the integrity, and the reputations of mainly his political opponents when he was the king in the Villa.
Obasanjo, who asked the President to deal decisively with the allegations of involvement by the “Office of the President of Nigeria in the sleaze,” threatened “to seek legal redress, if, where and when I consider necessary.”
In the eight-page letter he personally signed on the last Democracy Day (May 29, 2010), Obasanjo said his action was taken out of “deference to the exalted position of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which, by the special grace of God, you occupy as I feel to make a once-and-for-all detailed explanations and absolute rebuttal of these allegations.”
In the letter titled “Sustained and malicious media reports regarding my alleged involvement in Halliburton bribe scandal” and written on his personal headed paper, Obasanjo said for some time now, there had been unrelenting and often sponsored media publications alleging his role in the Halliburton bribe scandal with respect to the award of contracts by the Federal Government in the Liquefied Natural Gas Project.
He traced the scam to 1994 during the regime of the late Gen. Sani Abacha.
According to the former Nigerian leader, “four foreign firms, i.e Technip of France, Snamprogetti of Milan Italy, Kellogg Brown of Houston, Texas and JGC Corporate of Japan had, for the purpose of bidding and executing the contracts, formed a consortium of TSKJ, which consortium had in turn, hired a certain Jeffrey Tesler to act as a consultant in respect of the bids.
“The allegations simply are to the effect that Mr. Jeffrey Tesler served as a conduit for the transmission of bribes to Nigerian officials responsible for the execution of the project.
“The above-stated consortium and individuals are the subject of criminal, administrative and judicial enquiries in Nigeria, France, Switzerland and the United States of America, among others…”, the letter reads.
Obasanjo said upon assumption of office in 1999, he ordered the recovery of the various sums of money allegedly paid out as bribes in respect of the NLNG product and also directed law enforcement agencies to cooperate fully with their foreign counterparts in the investigation of the matter and other matters pertaining to corruption cases involving Nigerians and foreign individuals or corporate organisations.
Obasanjo said his effort paid off as top officials of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) met on several occasions, even as late as 2004, with investigating magistrates in Switzerland and France.
His letter continues: “In further demonstration of my resolve to ensure repatriation of the funds, a lawyer, based in Geneva, Switzerland, was instructed to identify and employ all legal means applicable under the laws of those countries concerned to ensure the recovery of the said sums. Due to the nature of the matter, I requested and received direct briefings from this lawyer as to progress in the recovery and repatriation efforts. Reports of such briefings and repatriations were shared with the then NSA, Attorney-General, and Minister of Finance, Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria. As the exchange of correspondence between the lawyer and I are germane in the rebuttal of the unfounded allegations made against me, you will permit me to make brief references to the content of some of the said correspondences.”
According to him, the correspondences showed the payment to the Federal Government of 30 per cent of the assets on the frozen Swiss bank accounts he (Tesler) controls, which he evaluated at $110 million i.e. $33 million.
• assignment to the Federal Government of 100 per cent of his claim against the consortium in respect of Trains 4-5 (balance due to $11.2 million) and in respect of Train 6 ($23 million), for which no formal contract between Mr. Tesler and TSKJ existed at that time.
• Mr. Tesler’s offer totalled about $60 million.
The correspondence further explained that “except the payment of $2.5 million to Chief Dan Etete, under the false identity of ‘Omoni Amafegha,’ allegedly in the context of the purchase of five per cent of the shares in Malabu, no payment to high Nigerian officials has been identified yet, nor has the examination of bank accounts shown any important cash withdrawals.
Unless such elements are found, it will be impossible to obtain the conviction of Mr. Tesler and the forfeiture of the frozen monies in favour of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
Obasanjo hinted that in his response, he rejected the 30 per cent offer of Mr. Tesler and insisted on the payment of 50 per cent of the total amount of $132 million that Tesler had been paid, an action based on the fact that Nigeria has 49 per cent equity in the LNG, therefore making it entitled to 50per cent of any sum corruptly paid by the consortium to any individual.
Thereafter, Tesler offered to pay $90 million because of his administration’s insistence that any sum recovered from Tesler must not be less than two-thirds of the $180 million he (Tesler) received.
But Obasanjo told Jonathan that he was informed of the reluctance of the French Examining Magistrate to make any order which would give Tesler access to any of the funds even after the sum agreed between him and Nigeria as restitution had been repatriated to Nigeria.
“As you know, I met last Friday with French Examining Magistrate Renaud Van Ruymbeke, with whom I notably addressed the issue of a possible restitution agreement. He stated that he would welcome a voluntary restitution to your government to compensate it for its potential damage, and would give the necessary authorizations to the Swiss authorities who have frozen Jeffrey Tesler’s accounts at his request, but stated that he was absolutely opposed to any lifting in favour of Jeffrey Tesler who, in his words, should not recover one cent,” the Nigerian lawyer wrote.
Obasanjo said a careful perusal of the correspondence would indicate that, as at 2004, Mr. Tesler volunteered to assign his commission expected from TSKJ for Trains 4 and 5 of the contract. “In effect, as at 2004, Mr. Tesler had not received any money from the consortium from which he could at that time be said to have bribed any Nigerian officials.
“It is, therefore, interesting to note that several of these publications have accused me of receiving bribe in 2001 from money disbursed by the consortium to Mr. Tesler for Trains 4 and 5. How could this be possible when, as stated above, Mr. Tesler, in 2004, conceded to assign the said money yet to be paid to him for Trans 4 and 5?”
In an emotion-laden tone, Obasanjo wrote: “I have, in the course of several decades, served Nigeria, firstly as a member of her Armed Forces and later as Head of her Government on two occasions. I have devoted much of my energy, time and resources towards the conception and actualisation of policies aimed at tackling the problem of corruption, which has afflicted and truncated the social and economic development of our country for decades.
“Indeed, on the occasion of my inauguration as President on May 29, 1999, I stated in my inaugural address my intention to tackle the problem of corruption head on.
“To achieve this objective, my administration conceived and established the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent and Corrupt Practices Commission which bodies were statutorily empowered to investigate allegations of financial crimes and official corruption, among others. These agencies succeeded in recovering billions of Naira in looted funds. From one family alone, over $1.25 billion, £100 million and properties worth more than N25 billion were recovered. The report of the recoveries and about $1 billion yet to be recovered, as submitted by our lawyer-recovery agent, were handed over to your predecessor.” Obasanjo then wrote in conclusion: “I did not participate directly or indirectly in the negotiations for the award of contracts of the LNG in Bonny and neither did I approve any such contract award since the company has a competent Board to finalise its negotiations and transactions. Such negotiations were never referred to government for approval.”
Finally: “It is my hope that the contents of this letter would bring about a decision of the Federal Government to make available to the public the full details of the circumstances surrounding the Halliburton bribe scandal and who, if anybody, are the culprits. Anybody you may designate can have access to the correspondences between me as President of Nigeria and the lawyer-agent, which must be available in your office and copies of which I have in my possession.”
The $180 million Halliburton bribery scandal has stirred unending controversies since it broke about six years ago.
The presidential panel of investigation report submitted by Mike Okiro, immediate past Inspector-General of Police, to the then President and Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces dated May 25, 2009 and the second, addressed to the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, dated July 20, 2009, listed the names of some former Nigerian leaders and other top government officials who benefited from it.
The first list of 80 beneficiaries compiled by American law enforcement agents was published extensively by media houses.
Another report, an interim one by the Presidential Panel of Investigation headed by former Inspector General of Police, Mike Okiro, said Obasanjo; his former Deputy, Atiku Abubakar; and former Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) Group Managing Directors, Gaius Obaseki and Funso Kupolokun; jointly got $74 million (N1.77 billion) from the slush fund.
The Okiro Report, was sent to President Umaru Yar’Adua in May last year.
It elongated the list of 80 persons, foreigners and Nigerians, alive and dead, among them four former Heads of State and two of their wives, as well as former Governors, and Ministers – indeed the highest reaches of the country’s political and military establishments, including technocrats – indicted by the United States law enforcement officials for partaking in the N27 billion bribe Halliburton gave to win juicy oil contracts in the Niger Delta.
The latest report on the saga signed by Ogbonna Onovo, Inspector-General of Police dated March 29, 2010 and addressed to the National Security Adviser (NSA), to the then Acting President Goodluck Jonathan, indicated that the panel had established that certain highly-placed government officials received monies out of the $180 million bribe fund.
According to the progress report of the presidential panel, the bribe paid to Nigerian officials was done at different times, starting from the Abacha years in 1995 to the Obasanjo era. The report also graphically captured the genesis of the bribery scam, the identities of the foreign nationals who served as agents of Halliburton for payment of bribe to Nigerian government officials, the company through which the bribe money was channelled, and the role of the key-players.
The bribery scandal began in 1994 when the NLNG board under the chairmanship of Yusuf opened bids for the award of contract for the Liquefied Natural Gas Project in Bonny, Rivers State. A consortium of four companies – Technip of France, Snamprogetti, a subsidiary of ENI SPA of Italy; Kellog of the United States later known as KBR and Japan Gasoline Corporation, which was registered as TSKJ, bid for the contract with BCSA.
TSKJ is a subsidiary of Halliburton. TSKJ subsequently won the contract for $1.8 billion in September 1994, to build trains 1 and 2 because its quotation was about $100 million lower than that of BCSA.
Though the Okiro Report was submitted almost a year ago, it was never made public and is shrouded in secrecy, some say because of the caliber of Nigerians alleged to have been involved in the scandal.
Members of the panel included Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Chairman, Farida Waziri; representatives of the National Security Adviser; State Security Service (SSS) Director General; and National Intelligence Agency (NIA) Director.
The Halliburton bribe was at the instance of Albert “Jack” Stanley, former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of KBR, a subsidiary of Halliburton.
Stanely reportedly met Obasanjo’s predecessors, Sani Abacha and Abdulsalami Abubakar, for the same purpose.
The Okiro Report said the panel relied on Stanley’s depositions before the U.S. District Court in Houston, and documents provided by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
Stanley, who has since been jailed seven years for the offence, according to the report, met Obasanjo and Obaseki in Abuja on November 11, 2001 to negotiate the bribe in respect of Trains four and five of the gas project.
The report disclosed that, “On December 20, Obaseki reportedly met with (Wojciech) Chodan and Stanley in London over lunch in furtherance of discussions. In March 2002, TSKJ won the Train 4 and 5 contracts for $3.6 billion.”
Obasanjo collected a minimum $4 million, according to the report.
Atiku’s link to the scam is said to be through his company, Intels Energy Limited, believed to have managed slush funds on behalf of Marubeni Corporation, a trading company with headquarters in Japan, which allegedly paid over $50 million to bribe low-level Nigerian Government officials.
In August 2002, Jeffrey Tesler, a British lawyer, said to have acted as intermediary with the Nigerian Government by Halliburton, reportedly wired $5 million into Intels’ account in Citibank in Port Harcourt, meant for a top government official.
The Okiro Report stated that $1 million of this amount, in $100 bills, was given to NNPC officials at NICON Hilton Hotel in a “pilot briefcase” for onward delivery to Bodunde Adeyanju, said to be Obasanjo’s former aide.
According to the report, the balance was delivered in the same manner and in bullion vans in Naira to Adeyanju.
“Reports suggest that Stanley met with Obasanjo and then (Obaseki) in Abuja on November 11, 2001 to negotiate pay-offs in respect of Trains 4 and 5.
“On December 20, 2001, Obaseki reportedly met with Chodan and Stanley in London over lunch in furtherance of discussions. In March 2002, TSKJ won the Trains 4 and 5 contracts for $3.6 billion.
“Allegations are that Obasanjo may have received a minimum of $4 million as pay-off.”According to Tesler’s indictment papers, Obaseki’s meeting with him in London in 2001 served to negotiate pay-offs.
“In August 2002, Tesler is reported to have wired $5 million into the Citibank Nigeria account of Intels Energy Limited, Port-Harcourt, destined for a top government official.
“Reports suggest that $1 million in $100 bills was deposited with ‘the NNPC official’ at the NICON Hilton Hotel in a “pilot’s briefcase’ for onward delivery to Bodunde Adeyanju.
“The balance was delivered in the same manner and in bullion vans in Naira to the same Adeyanju, said to be one of the Special Assistants to Obasanjo.”