THE Federal Government is set to use its Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) with the United States (U.S.) to unmask senior Nigerian officials that featured in the various bribe-for-contracts scandal between 1995 and 2004 or thereafter.
For now, the government wants to use the Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) projects as a springboard to bring the affected officials to book and compensation from the foreign cohorts.
The Attorney-General of the Federation, Chief Kaase Michael Aondoakaa (SAN), who has been given the mandate by President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, to seek assistance from the U.S. government in the matter, has swung into action.
The minister, in a letter dated February 17, 2009 and addressed to his U.S. counterpart, Mr. Eric Holder, which The Guardian obtained at the weekend, requested for America’s assistance to establish and expose the identities of the Nigerian officials and foreigners who took the bribes from Kellog Brown & Root (KBR), a subsidiary of Halliburton, a U.S. firm that allegedly acted as a front in the multi-billion dollar LNG projects.
The Guardian had on Monday, March 9, 2009 reported the government’s plan to sue and demand about $10 billion compensation from the foreign firms and their countries of origin involved in the scam. The criticism that followed this move was that Nigeria should have sought to bring her own corrupt officials to book before going abroad to seek compensation from the bribe givers.
Last week, the Senate passed a resolution to probe the LNG saga to unmask the affected Nigerian officials.
Aondoakaa said in the letter to the American authorities that the Federal Government is set to prosecute its officials involved in this “grand corruption.”
In the letter titled: “Re: Violations of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Act 2000 and Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act of 2004 in Connection with bribe payments relating to Bonny Liquefied Natural Gas facility,” Aondoakaa listed the type of assistance and the U.S. officials and institutions that could provide them.
Aondoakaa, who left Nigeria for the U.S. last Saturday, accompanied by the Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to impress on the U.S. why its support is desirable, also named a Nigerian lawyer, Mr. Kayode Oladele, based in the U.S. and an American counsel, Mr. Jack Blum, who such information could be presented to for onward transmission to the Nigerian government.
In the letter which has the following as sub-themes: “Request for mutual legal assistance; requested state’s central authority; requesting state’s central authority; description of subject matter and the nature of investigation; description of the evidence information or scope of assistance sought, statement of the purpose for which the assistance sought; information on the location of Mr. Albert Jackson Stanley, and use limitation,” the government relied heavily on USA v. Stanley – Case No: 4:08-cr-00597-1 where the American government prosecuted Stanley for oiling a bribery network in Asia and Africa, with Nigeria as the focus.
Stanley was convicted by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas for the his role in the scam.
Under the request for mutual legal assistance, the Nigerian attorney-general said: “Pursuant to the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) between the United States of America and Nigeria of 2003, I hereby on behalf of the Federal Government of Nigeria, present this request for legal assistance and in line with the Treaty requirements, make and present the following information to the U.S. Attorney-General, the United States Department of Justice through the Director, Office of International Affairs Criminal Division, United States Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.”
He named the requesting authority as the Attorney- General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Federal Republic of Nigeria, Abuja, Nigeria through his delegated representatives: Oladele and Blum.
According to him, “investigation involves a suspected criminal conspiracy among Nigerian government officials, Nigerian and foreign nationals all as yet unidentified, to obtain a contract for the construction of LNG facilities in exchange for bribes.
“The underlying facts are known to the government of the United States as a result of the conviction of Albert Stanley Jackson, a U.S. citizen and resident of Houston, Texas for violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).
“According to the Court records, on September 3, 2008, Albert Stanley Jackson, a former officer and director of Kellogg, Brown & Root, Inc. (KBR), a global engineering and construction services company based in Houston, Texas, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the FCPA in connection with a scheme to bribe Federal Government of Nigerian officials in order to obtain engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) contracts worth more than $6 billion.
“As set forth in the criminal information, between March 1991 and June 2004, he served in various capacities as an officer and director of KBR, and KBR’s predecessor, The M.W. Kellogg Company, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Dresser Industries, Inc, including serving on the steering committee of a joint venture in which these companies, at various times, had an interest,” he said.
The minister continued: “According to the criminal information, the joint venture hired Consultant A (a citizen of the United Kingdom) to help it obtain business in Nigeria, including by offering to pay and paying bribes to high level Nigerian government officials, including employees of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (an entity owned and controlled by the government of Nigeria). In addition, the joint venture hired another consulting company headquartered in Japan to also help it obtain business in Nigeria, including by offering to pay and paying bribes to Nigerian foreign officials.
“The joint venture paid the Japanese consulting company several millions of dollars for use in bribing Nigerian government officials. According to Stanley’s admission, these illegal payments assisted the joint venture in obtaining four EPC contracts to build the Bonny Island (Nigeria) Liquefied Natural Gas Project valued at over $6 billion.
“By pleading guilty to the charges, Mr. Stanley acknowledged that he and his co-conspirators wilfully and knowingly agreed to make improper payments to Nigerian foreign officials in order to obtain the contract for the construction of the LNG – Bonny Island Project. In the criminal information filed by the U.S. Department of Justice, Mr. Stanley detailed various meetings he participated in with his co-conspirators during which discussions occurred as to the use of particular consultants to pay bribes to Nigerian officials to secure support for the joint venture to obtain and retain contracts in connection with the LNG project.
“The records also indicated that the primary purpose of the joint venture consulting contracts was to facilitate the payment of bribes to Nigerian officials through which various payments were made to the co-conspirators using several banks in The Netherlands, the U.S., Switzerland, Monaco, and Japan for this enterprise,” Aondoakaa said before the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Stanley, in addition to pleading guilty to conspiring to violate the FCPA, also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud in connection with a kickback scheme he participated in with a consultant on the LNG projects around the world where he received several millions of dollars in kickbacks.
The minister noted under a plea agreement between the U.S. Department of Justice and Stanley, which informed the court’s ruling, Stanley was sentenced to seven years in prison in addition to payment of restitution in the amount of $250,000.
“He also agreed to cooperate in ongoing investigations related to the above conduct. The Federal Government of Nigeria wishes to make use of his co-operation agreement,” he said.
The government further told the American authorities that it had started investigation into this matter and “now requests assistance from the U.S. government. The Attorney-General is determined to prosecute all of the participants in this case of grand corruption wherever they may be located, to the full extent of Nigerian law.”
On the specific information expected from U.S., the minister said they are all the evidence in the possession of the U.S. as the result of its investigation of Stanley. He urged Washington to grant Abuja access to “all the documents, records of interviews, transcripts, and records relating to the Stanley case including but not limited to evidence gathered and presented to the grand jury.”
He pleaded that as Nigeria makes progress with its investigation, the U.S. should allow it to take testimony under oath from Mr. Stanley, locate and compel the testimony under oath of other witnesses within the jurisdiction of the U.S., who may have relevant information.
Nigeria also asked the U.S. to compel its nationals and corporations identified in the investigation to turn over additional documents and evidence as the need arises.
Aondoakaa argued that from the “allocution and indictment, the United States is aware of the identity of the persons who assisted Mr. Stanley in the commission of his crimes.” The government of Nigeria therefore requests that information inasmuch as those individuals have likely violated Nigerian law.”
Similarly, the government said funds related to the commission of these crimes in Nigeria can be located, and urged the U.S. to assist in the repatriation of the money to Nigeria.
Under statement for the purpose for which assistance is sought, Aondoakaa said the Nigerian government is the “victim of the illegal overt acts and criminal conspiracy described in the Stanley indictment and allocution.”
“Between 1995 and 2004, the Federal Government of Nigeria awarded various contracts to the joint venture through LNG Limited, a corporation created by the Nigeria government to develop an NLG facility on Bonny Island. During that time the contracts that were awarded to the joint venture were valued at over $6 billion.”
He then averred: “Much of the money went into kickbacks, which were channelled through Mr. Stanley and various other consultants in active connivance with top government functionaries in Nigeria. Mr. Stanley Jackson’s investigation also revealed that these monies were routed through Swiss bank accounts including accounts held in the names of nominees and Shell companies in order to conceal their scheme.
“The Federal Government wants to initiate criminal proceedings against the Nigerian public officers involved for violating the Nigerian laws relating to financial and other economic crimes. The government also wants to seek forfeiture of assets related to violations of economic crime and other financial control and regulation laws in Nigeria.”
The minister also requested for “all the reports of the investigation conducted by the U.S. government including all documents recovered from Mr. Stanley or under the control or custody of Mr. Stanley or a competent authority relating to all inquiry and investigation and any other investigative files. The Federal Government would also require the assistance of the U.S. government to compel Mr. Stanley to provide substantial assistance to the Nigerian Government including providing truthful, complete and accurate information to the Nigerian government pursuant to his plea agreement with U.S. government.”
He pledged that Nigeria would not use the information or evidence supplied under the MLAT for any case or investigation other than that for which the information or evidence was requested.
The LNG scandal was broken by Georges Krammer, the Director-General of the French firm, Technip. He was accused of paying illegal commissions in Africa and Asia. When his employers turned their back on him, Krammer opened up and told judge d’Instruction Renaud van Ruymbeke on his firm’s operations in Nigeria LNG project, Indonesia and Thailand. This led to investigations in Switzerland, U.S., and Nigeria.
LNG was incorporated in 1989 with NNPC as majority stakeholder. In 1993, the Interim National Government of Ernest Shonekan ceded 51 per cent of equity of the Bonny, Rivers State-based LNG to Shell (25.6 per cent), TotalFina ELF (15 per cent), ENI 10.4 per cent while NNPC held 49 per cent.
When the Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) contracts came up, a consortium TSKJ owned by Technip, Snamprogetti (Italy) and KBR Halliburton U.S. and Japanese Gas Corporation (JGC) was formed and won the bid with $3.6 billion offer.
Between 1995 and 2004, the government spent about $7 billion to build LNG Trains One to Trains Seven. The contracts were allegedly over-bloated and bribes paid to senior government’s officials.