By KINGSLEY OMONOBI
ABUJAâ€”As the Federal Government inter-agency panel into the $190million Halliburton scandal reaches its last stretch next week, there are indications that the Mike Okiro led panel has calledÂ Â the bluff of the American government over the failure of the FBI to assist the panel corroborate the confession of some prime suspects during interrogation which is key to their being nailed.
Consequently Saturday Vanguard gathered that the Okiro panel, has contacted Britain, France and Germany to assist it with information about the activities of both the Nigerian beneficiaries and their foreign collaborators which they have the wherewithal to get and which they provided the FBI team that earlier investigated the involvement of both their citizens and the Nigerian conspirators.
The action of the Okiro panel which is seen as a bold move towards ensuring that the panel completes its job on schedule despiteÂ many attempts at frustrating it is also aimed at helping the panel unlock certain codes with which huge sums of the money were paid into accounts of either the beneficiaries or cronies acting as fronts for some beneficiaries.
President Umaru Musa Yarâ€™adua who set up the panel to unravel those behind the distribution of the multi-million dollar bribe money as well as the beneficiaries, had confirmedÂ Â Vanguard exclusive report in his first interview session with the State House Press Corp, that Nigeria had requested the cooperation of some foreign countries including the US, France, Switzerland and Britain where most of the shared money has been traced to, for assistance in the investigation.
A source close to the panel while expressing surprise that the same American authorities who tell the whole world that they are against corruption in all ramifications and are ready to cooperate with any government willing to fight the scourge, are the ones reneging on their promise. HeÂ wondered why the same Americans are trying to put studs in the wheel of progress of the panel.
Said the source, â€œWe have made all necessary contacts with the American authorities through the highest level of government for about four weeks now. We know they have what we want and they know it will help unravel the knotty issues. They initially asked us to give then some time. Later they said the time is not enough that we should give them some weeks. They are just trying to frustrate the work of the panel.
But we are going through other alternatives. We must finish the work according to scheduleâ€.
Continuing the source said the panel last week interrogated two foreigners whose names are being kept secret, saying thatÂ the panel had achieved a lot in the task given it pointing out that what is remaining is for it to align its findings with the one earlier conducted abroad so that there will be no escape route for those indicted .
The Federal Bureau of Investigation first investigated the scam and indicted some of its citizens for engaging in fraudulent and corrupt acts of bribing some prominent NigerianÂ Â and others whose foreign accounts were either used to carry out the distribution to secure contract jobs which is seen as unethical practice.
It would be recalled that last week, Vanguard reported that the Okiro panel into the $190million bribery scamÂ had narrowed down its suspects to six major persons with some of them being former oil ministers and that a former Oil minister and a former group managing director of NNPC were detained in connection with the investigations.
Also, the International Police organization (INTERPOL) was put on alert by the panel over the movements of some of the persons already interrogated and some of those yet to be interrogated over the possibility of some of them sneaking out of the country.
The panel, a source also hinted, is working round the clock to meetÂ Â the remaining two weeks of the 8-weeks deadline given it to complete its job, as the federal government seem not ready to give them any extension.
On the detention of the former Petroleum minister and former Group Managing director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), the source had told Vanguard that they were subjected to serious interrogations lasting till about 8pm, after which they were detained for two days.
Though, it was not clearÂ Â the reason why both were detained for two days, sources hinted Vanguard that it may not be unconnected with recent revelations by some of the top shots already invited and quizzedÂ Â that both officers were in a better position to unravel some of the nagging areas bothering the panel.
It was further gathered that one of the key persons in the multi-million dollar bribery scam, and former Managing Director of a second generation bank, whose international passport was among seven so far seized as at last week, was later recalled to shed further light onÂ the role he played in the whole bribery affair.
Recall that a former Chief of Air staff, a former head of the National security organization, a former IGP, two former Petroleum ministers, a former NNPC GMD and a brother of a serving governor, had been interrogated by the Okiro led panel over their roles in the Halliburton scam.
Also, two former heads of state, a former Vice President, the son of an emir and the brother of a one time military head of State have been implicatedÂ Â in the sharing of the bribery money but are yet to be invited or interrogated.
Vanguard had reported the two former heads of state and the former Vice President, were accused of having played critical roles in the sharing of the Halliburton bribe money with one of the heads of state whose account was credited severally with various sums of money allegedly collecting $2. 9million in one fell swoop, without covering his back adding that this was what gave him out.
In the case of the other former head of state, it was discovered, based on interrogation of some of the earlier arrested and bailed persons, that he used several companies of his cronies to act as fronts in whose account several millions of the dollars were paid into.
Consequently, the source said the panel would invite these prominent Nigerians to answer all they know about the payment and disbursement of the $190million Halliburton bribe money provided Mr. President gives the Okiro panel powerÂ to do so considering the standing of some of the big wigs in the society.
On how the bribe money initially put at $180million rose to $190million, the source said that since the company was desperate to get the contract for the construction of the $1. 9billion Liquefied Natural Gas project, it went about settling those it taught could stand on its way and that based on a list collated and supplied it by Jeffery Tessler, the British Lawyer who it has been discovered has dealings with most of these persons, the money jerked up to $190million.