For $250 Million, Nigeria Drops Bribery Charges Against Cheney
The Nigerian government has dropped bribery charges against former Vice President Dick Cheney after Halliburton agreed to pay Nigeria $250 million dollars in fines.
The charges were filed Dec. 7 and center around Cheney's activities as the chief executive of Halliburton and its one-time subsidiary KBR before he became the vice president in 2001. Last year both companies pleaded guilty in a U.S. court to violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices act by paying more than $180 million in bribes to Nigerian officials prior to 2007. The companies were fined $579 million, the largest fine ever paid under the act.
A spokesman for Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Femi Babafemi, told ABC News that the charges were dropped after the company agreed to the settlement, which includes the company forfeiting some of the $130 million dollars currently frozen in Swiss accounts.
The head of Nigeria's anti-corruption body says the country charged Cheney with bribery to send the message: "Nobody is above the laws of the land."
Farida Mzamber Waziri, the executive chairman of Nigeria's Economic Financial Crimes Commission told ABC News that the country will never end its culture of corruption and impunity until it starts prosecuting everyone guilty of breaking the law, even if it means charging a former vice president of the United States.
"It's not about profile," says Waziri. "It's about breaching the laws of the land."
Though the U.S. Department of Justice and the Security and Exchange Commission conducted an extensive investigation, Nigerian officials had been conducting their own and wanted the case prosecuted in the country where the crimes were committed.
"Monies were taken to offshore accounts at the expense of the poor masses of Nigeria," says Waziri. "The monies meant for development projects are the ones that are carted away, so we are the victims."
Cheney's lawyer, Terrence O'Donnell had issued a statement calling the charges "baseless." O'Donnell points to the fact that the U.S. investigation "found no suggestion of any impropriety by Dick Cheney in his role of CEO of Halliburton."
Nigeria has a global reputation for corruption. In 2010 the anti-corruption watchdog group Transparency International ranked Nigeria as one of the 50 most corrupt countries in the world. Multinational corporations and small businessmen operating in Nigeria often say the same thing, that it is impossible to conduct business in a completely transparent and legitimate way.
The latest Wikileaks cables about Nigeria seem to confirm this notion. Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, which recently paid over $75 million in compensation for testing a meningitis drug on Nigerian children without parental consent, is portrayed in one cable as wanting to find incriminating evidence against Nigeria's attorney general to pressure him to drop the case.
"Pfizer had hired investigators to uncover corruption links to Federal Attorney General Michael Aondoakaa to expose him and put pressure on him to drop the federal cases," read the cable dated April 9, 2009 and published by the Guardian newspaper.
More cables detail oil giant Shell's dealings with the Nigerian government including an admission that the company had infiltrated every level of government and knew all of its inner-workings, as well as offering to share intelligence with U.S. officials about the troubled oil-rich Niger Delta region.
Waziri said Nigerians are aware that their country has an "endemic" problem with corruption, but that the actions of multinational corporations are only helping to fuel it.
"Big firms doing business in Nigeria, coming to Nigeria with the mindset that this is a corrupt country, everybody is so corrupt, anything goes. They won't follow rules and procedures. They just go to corrupt individuals and institutions offering bribes and then doing a shoddy job or not doing it at all," says Waziri. "This is what we are not going to accept anymore."