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Govt agencies kill $180m Halliburton bribery case, fail to produce 14 witnesses billed to testify

April 1, 2012

Facts emerged on Friday that the failure of government agencies to produce 14 witnesses billed to testify against the three suspects in the $180million Halliburton bribery case, jeopardised the trial in Nigeria.

Justice Abubakar Umar of an Abuja High Court had on Monday struck out the case following the failure of the prosecution to arraign the three suspects in court for one year that the trial lasted.

The freed suspects were a former permanent secretary in the Office of the Head of Service, Alhaji Ibrahim Aliyu; retired Air-Vice Marshall Abdullahi Bello and Mohammed Bukari.

At the behest of the late President Musa Yar’Adua, the Federal Government had set up an inter- agency panel to investigate the bribery scam and bring the culprits to book.

The committee, which comprised the Police, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, State Security Service, Nigeria Intelligence Agency, was headed by a former Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Mike Okiro.

It was learnt that the police had promised to produce three witnesses, the SSS four, the EFCC one witness, and the NIA two witnesses, to prosecute the case against the suspects.

Ironically, no witness was produced as the prosecution was unable to arraign the suspects, a development that drew the ire of Justice Umar last Monday.

Yar’Adua had been embarrassed by the bad image the Federal Government had got for not prosecuting the case, whereas foreigners involved in the same scam had been convicted in both the US and the UK; and fined heavily.

Yar’Adua had in April 2009 through his spokesman, Segun Adeniyi, said, “You have the word of President Yar’Adua that all the people culpable in the Halliburton scandal, no matter how highly placed, will not go unpunished.

“Government is already in possession of some documents on the Halliburton case and this exposes the level of perfidy in our system which the president is trying to clean up.”

SUNDAY PUNCH investigations however revealed that high level political pressure because of the big shots involved in the scam, accounted for the shambolic handling of the trial.

While Nigeria dithered, two Britons and an American were sentenced by a Texas, United States court for conspiring to channel $180m bribes to Nigerian politicians and officials.

A 74-year-old Wojciech Chodan, a retired sales executive was the first to be sentenced for his part in paying bribes to secure huge engineering contracts in Nigeria.

He was sentenced to one year probation and fined $20,000. Chodan pleaded guilty in December 2010.

Another Briton, Jeffrey Tesler, a London lawyer, was sentenced after pleading guilty about his role in the bribery.

Tesler, 63, was given 21 months in federal prison followed by two years of supervised release for delivering $132m in bribes for KBR and its partners. Tesler also forfeited $149m as part of his plea deal.

Also, an American executive, Jack Stanley, 69, who was said to be the mastermind behind KBR’s Nigeria bribery scheme, was sentenced to 30 months in prison and three years’ probation following his release. He earlier got bail in the sum of $100,000.

In Nigeria, the Okiro panel had indicted 12 highly placed former government officials and corporations after its investigation.

Giving his verdict, Justice Umar had said, “I have checked my records and in the past one year, since February 17, 2011 when I granted leave to the prosecution to arraign the accused; they have not done so.”

On the EFCC, one of the agencies involved in the prosecution, the Judge reportedly said, “It has been over a year now and still the EFCC is coming up with excuses

“The EFCC should know that if it is not ready to prosecute and bring cases to conclusion, it should not apply for leave of court to arraign anybody.

“The EFCC should know that I am answerable to the National Judicial Council and what will I say is the reason why this case has been at arraignment stage for the past one year.”

The case was filed when Mr. Michael Aondoakaa was the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice.

He reportedly granted a fiat to four private prosecutors, including three Senior Advocates to handle the case on behalf of the ministry.

On why the case crumbled like a pack of cards, a highly-placed source in the EFCC, who pleaded anonymity because he was not authorised to speak on the matter, said the prosecution of the Halliburton scandal was not strictly an EFCC case.

According to the source, the Halliburton trial was not an EFCC investigation and so the agency could not be held liable for any shortcoming regarding its prosecution in court.

“For the avoidance of doubt, the Halliburton case was an inter-agency investigation driven by the Nigeria Police. The EFCC’s role in the Okiro panel was at best marginal as it contributed only one representative on that panel.

“There was no direct involvement of the commission in the case beyond the participation of one of its staff on the panel.”

Most of the security agencies involved in the prosecution failed to comment on the matter when our correspondents contacted them.

The Force Public Relations Officer, Mr. Olusola Amore, did not pick the calls made to his phone by our correspondent and did not respond to text message sent to his phone.

Similarly, the Deputy Director Public Relations of the SSS, Ms Marilyn Ogar, did not respond to calls and text messages sent to her on the issue.

The same silence was experienced at the Ministry of Justice as the Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Ambrose Momoh, was not available for comments.

Our correspondent went to his office on Friday but did not meet him. He promised to get back to our correspondent but failed to do so as at press time.

However, a ministry’s source told one of our correspondents that the agencies would not respond to a matter as explosive and political as the Halliburton’s scam, whose prosecution was designed to fail.

The source explained, “It is evident that all the agencies never worked in harmony. The case was doomed right from the beginning. Look at when the Okiro panel met; they did not have the guts to interrogate some highly-placed individuals.

“It only quizzed small fries; it left the ministers including the movers and shakers in the country alleged to have been involved in the bribery.

“Even after the former United States’ Ambassador to Nigeria, Robin Sanders, said documents and evidence needed by the Nigerian authorities to prosecute culprits in the scandal have been made available, yet nothing happened.”

Reacting to the matter, the acting Head, Media and Publicity of the EFCC, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, said, “The ruling of the Abuja high court has nothing to do with the EFCC because it was not an EFCC matter from the beginning and we can’t take responsibility for a matter that was not ours.”

A cross-section of constitutional lawyers told SUNDAY PUNCH that the failure of the case was a reflection of the deep-rooted corruption in the society.

A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr. Emeka Ngige, said striking out the case showed that government was insincere in its graft war.

He said, “The striking out of the case shows that the government is not sincere about its fight against corruption. The fight is a charade. Corruption is the centrepiece of this government’s economic programme.”

In the same vein, Prof. Itse Sagay, SAN, said the botched trial had a negative impact on the fight against corruption.

“And I think the security agencies should stop all their publicity stunts and focus on doing their investigations carefully and steadily.

“They should always do their work diligently; gather sufficient evidence before charging anybody.”

Similarly, Mr. Yusuf Ali, SAN, said, “I wouldn’t know what led to their not being able to provide the required document, but I think they were sloppy. The courts deal with the facts available and the laws applicable to the case.”

Culled from Punch, Sunday 1st April 2012

 

 

 

 

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