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Halliburton: Ex-minister quizzed over $6m bribe

•How he collected the money — Bodunde
•I don’t know what he is talking about — Batagarawa
•Officials threaten panel’s job

By Kingsley  Omonobi ,

Abuja-A FORMER minister of state for defence, Mallam Lawal Batagarawa, has been quizzed by the Federal Government’s investigation panel probing the $190 million Halliburton scam following an allegation by a suspect that the ex-minister collected $6 million from him (suspect).

Sunday Vanguard had reported some months back that a former special assistant to ex-President Obasanjo, Bodunde Adeyanju, who was arrested and quizzed by the panel for allegedly sharing the Halliburton kickback, had told investigators that he actually collected $6million from the former group managing director of NNPC, Chief Jackson Gauis Obaseki, and handed over the money to Batagarawa.

With some prominent Nigerians who were invited and quizzed by the panel claiming that some accomplices were being treated as untouchables, the panel moved to invite Batagarawa to come and explain what he did with the money he was accused of collecting .

Sunday Vanguard gathered that when Bodunde was challenged to repeat in Batagarawa’s presence what he had said about him, he (Bodunde) insisted that he gave Batagarawa the money. The former minister of state, however, denied ever collecting such money from Bodunde.

At a point, the panel members told Bodunde to look at Batagarawa, eyeball to eyeball, and remind him (Batagarawa) how he collected the money. Bodunde, it was gathered, could not look Batagarawa in the face but insisted the former minister collected the $6million. The former minister was subsequently released from detention after some days of questioning.

*Officials scuttle panel’s proposed trip abroad

Meanwhile, Sunday Vanguard gathered that several months after the five-man panel concluded the Nigerian leg of its investigations and secured visas to travel abroad for the foreign leg of the investigation, some officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs appeared to have scuttled the travel arrangements.

The ministry officials were said to have delayed the briefs, questionnaires and information needed by the panel to do their work abroad for six months such that the visas issued in October with a December 4 deadline for the panel members expired with the panelists still in Nigeria. The briefs, questionnaires and information were supposed to be translated into Spanish, French and German.

In effect the trips can no longer take place this year, giving the international community the impression that the government of Nigeria’s talk about unearthing the truth about the Halliburton scam is mere political talk. Besides, brother of former head of state, Alhaji Abdulkadir Abacha, has refused to appear before the panel to answer questions about his alleged role in the scam.

The panel members had been scheduled to travel to France, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom and Germany for two weeks to investigate how the monies were distributed, the codes used, how the facilitator and key foreign suspect, Jeffrey Tesler, allegedly tricked the Nigerian beneficiaries, as well as the extent of involvement of two former heads of state in the alleged sharing of the loot.

When it became clear that the Foreign Affairs Ministry officials were not forthcoming with the translation, for reasons best known to them, the panel then requested withdrawal of the documents and employed private experts that eventually carried out the translation but by then the visas had expired. N50million had been approved by President Umaru Yar’Adua, as far back as September, for the panel members to embark on the foreign leg of the investigations following the submission of an interim report on the in-country investigations.


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