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Obasanjo jittery as EFCC grills Aondoakaa over $182m Halliburton scandal

EFCC Chairman, Magu

Fear has gripped the camp of former President Olusegun Obasanjo and other leaders at the helm of the country’s affairs between 1994 and 2007 as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on Tuesday grilled former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Michael Aondoakaa (SAN), for his alleged role in the $182m Halliburton scandal.

Elombah.com learnt that Aondoakaa, who served as AGF under the late President Umaru Yar’adua, arrived the office of the EFCC around 10am and was grilled for about eight hours.

As of 7pm, he was still in EFCC custody, an indication that he may have spent the night at the commission.

Obasanjo

President Olusegun Obasanjo, who led Nigeria from 1999-2000, during which time he swore to fight corruption  in the country, obtained considerable helpings of the infamous Haliburton bribe money, according to a report by the Special Investigation Panel headed by Inspector-General of Police, Mike Okiro, in 2009.

According to the document, which was submitted to *President Umaru Yar’Adua in May 2009. by Mr. Okiro, Obasanjo shared the sum of $74 million USD between 2000 and 2001 with his Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar, as well as Funsho Kupolokun and Gaius Obaseki, who were successive heads of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation during the government’s early years. 

During that same time span, said the interim report, Obasanjo and the ruling party, the People’s Democratic Party, also pocketed $5m from the Halliburton slush funds.

Other major beneficiaries included General Sani Abacha, who got $40 million in 1994-95; Ibrahim Aliyu, $11.7million in 2001-2002; former Minister, Dan Etete, $2.5 million in 1996-1998; Abdulkadir Abacha, $1.8 in 1998; and M. G. Bakari, $3.1 million

A source at the anti-graft agency said, “Aondoakaa has been in our custody since morning and has been answering questions on his alleged role in the Halliburton scandal. More details will be revealed later.”

Aondoakaa’s alleged involvement in the scandal could not be immediately ascertained as of press time.

However, he had been accused of frustrating investigations into the case during his time as the AGF between 2007 and 2010.

The Halliburton case relates to an alleged $182m contract involving a four-company joint venture to build a liquefied natural gas plant on Bonny Island.

A network of secretive banks and offshore tax havens was used to funnel $182 million in bribes to Nigerian officials in exchange for $6 billion in engineering and construction work for an international consortium of companies that included a then Halliburton subsidiary.

Earlier in 2009, KBR, a former subsidiary of Halliburton, agreed to pay $402m after admitting that it bribed Nigerian officials, and Halliburton paid $177m to settle allegations by the US Securities and Exchange Commission without admitting any wrongdoing.

In mid-December 2010, the case was settled when Nigeria agreed to drop the corruption charges against the company’s former boss, Dick Cheney (and former US Vice-President); and Halliburton in exchange for a settlement of over $200m settlement.

However, no Nigerian official involved in the scandal has been jailed.

The Office of the AGF under the leadership of Mohammed Adoke (SAN) set up a team of five lawyers which would ensure the swift recovery of the funds.

However, $26m was said to have been paid to the lawyers as legal fees to the lawyers under controversial circumstances.

The lawyers include a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Joseph Daudu (SAN); Emmanuel Ukala (SAN), Chief Godwin Obla (SAN), Mr. Damian Dodo (SAN) and Mr. Roland Ewubare, who have all been quizzed by the commission.

Buhari

Anti-corruption campaigners have continued to call on President Muhamamdu Buhari to identify and prosecute Nigerian citizens involved in the scandal. 

The Halliburton Bribery Scandal dates to 1994 when the Nigerian government launched ambitious plans to build the Bonny Island Natural Liquefied Gas Project. 

While never publicly released, the 2010 Nigerian government document reportedly included three Nigerian presidents, a vice-president, a minister, intelligence chiefs and corporate titans in a list of bribery beneficiaries. 

“Although we’ve seen the indictment and conviction of foreign companies and their top executives in Europe and America, Nigeria’s own government has not taken action in the very country in which the corruption took place,” said a British lawyer, Jeffrey Tesler, speaking at the end of his 2012 sentencing hearing after pleading guilty to U.S. corruption charges for his role in what became known as the Halliburton Bribery Scandal.

In 2010 Nigeria indicted former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, who was CEO of Halliburton before he was elected, only to later clear him when Halliburton worked out a $35 million settlement. 

“In terms of the personalities and the amount of money involved it is probably the biggest scandal in Nigeria’s history.” 

The leaked files reveal that Tesler had financial ties to two former Nigerian officials: now-retired Major General Chris Garuba, chief of staff to former Nigerian president Abdulsalami Abubakar and a former governor of Northeastern Bauchi state, is now chairman of Obekpa Petroleum, a Nigerian oil company, who himself allegedly received bribes as president; and Andrew Agom, a senior government official who was killed in an attack on a motorcade. 

Tesler began planning the bribe payments in 1994 and transferred small amounts of money through Switzerland in July 1996. But by 2003, his role had escalated. 

In one brazen episode in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, Tesler directed the drop-off of a travel bag stuffed with $1 million in $100 bills in the foyer of a luxury hotel where the per-night cost of a suite can exceed the nation’s average annual income of $3,000.

It was one of at least 20 money transfers that Tesler made or directed.

The cash was destined for Nigeria’s ruling party via the state-owned oil and gas company, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), according to an official Nigerian report.

Months later, in April 2003, the governing party scored an overwhelming victory in an election marred by vote rigging, fraud and violence that killed at least 100 people.

Switzerland’s famous bank secrecy laws encouraged Tesler to use the country as base for moving bribe money. And HSBC Private Bank (Suisse), with offices near luxury hotels in Geneva and Zurich, was his preferred bank.

When U.S. authorities seized 12 of Tesler’s Swiss accounts in 2013, five were with HSBC — more than any other bank. 

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