WASHINGTON - Yet another controversy has flared up around the Halliburton oil services company of which Vice-President Dick Cheney used to be chief executive - this time over whether during the 1995-2000 Cheney era it violated US law by doing business directly with Iran.
The US Treasury has been probing the affair, which centers on a Dubai-based subsidiary of Halliburton and its work at Iranian oilfields, ever since allegations first surfaced in 2001. But this week it emerged that the group is under investigation by federal prosecutors in its home town of Houston. A grand jury has also subpoenaed various documents covering its Iranian operations, a sign that some evidence has surfaced indicating the company knowingly violated the sanctions.
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Halliburton claims it is the victim of an election season witch-hunt by the Democrats. It maintains it obeyed US regulations over dealings with Iran, which stipulate that subsidiaries doing business there must be registered abroad, employ no US citizens, and operate independently of the parent company.
But these protestations will count for nothing amid the new clamor over Iran's possible ties with international terrorism, and an ever more heated election campaign in which the company has turned into one of the prime issues.
Fairly or unfairly, the company has become symbol of the mismanagement of reconstruction in Iraq, and more generally of corporate greed and cronyism, and the Bush Presidency's fondness for big business, at the expense of ordinary Americans.
Iran is but the latest of at least five probes into the company currently in progress into allegations of bribery, kickbacks and overcharging.
The controversy surrounding Halliburton has even had some Republicans urging Mr Bush to drop Mr Cheney from the Republican ticket. Both the White House and Mr Cheney reject all such talk, and political professionals say such a move is all but unthinkable, given the Vice-President's popularity with the conservative Republican base, his exceptionally powerful position within the administration, and Mr Bush's refusal to admit he has made a mistake.
But Halliburton's latest legal misadventures have come to light at an awkward moment for the White House. The independent commission investigating the 11 September 2001 attacks today delivers its final report, likely to contain criticism of the Bush administration's alertness to the threat before the attacks on New York and Washington.
Although there is no suggestion that the Tehran regime, any more than Iraq, was directly involved, the report will point to evidence that eight or more of the 19 hijackers transited through Iran en route to the US. Mr Bush has now promised to look further into the "Iran connection" - of which Halliburton has become another angle.
© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd