By Soni Daniel, Northern Region Editor
ABUJA—The Federal Government moved a notch higher in its anti-graft war, last night, with a confirmation that it was launching a comprehensive probe into the controversial Halliburton bribery case in which top Nigerian politicians allegedly received huge bribes in the region of N66 billion.
The bribes were taken by top players in government between 1994 and 1998 from five major companies that were awarded $6 billion for the construction of gas trains in Bonny Island in Rivers State for the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas Company, NLNG.
Under the fresh probe being ordered by the Buhari administration, and unlike in the past, the key players in the Nigerian government, who demanded and collected the huge sums of money and those who offered the bribes, are to be fished out and prosecuted.
Vanguard also learned that the Federal Government was keen on determining if, indeed, the sum of $200 million said to have been paid by the five companies, which were indicted over the scam, was indeed remitted into the purse of the government.
The fresh enquiry will also ascertain why five senior Nigerian lawyers, who negotiated with the indicted multinational firms to escape prosecution in Nigeria and paid the $200 million fines, collected close to $12 million as ‘legal fees’ from the fines.
The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, who confirmed the fresh probe being launched by the government in an interview with Vanguard last night, said both criminal and civil charges would be pressed against the suspects.
Malami, who is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, said nothing would be left to chance in the new attempt to investigate the multi-million Naira scam that had cast the nation in bad light in the international community.
Leaving nothing to chance
Malami said: “It is true that the federal government is undertaking a comprehensive probe of the Halliburton bribery scandal and we are not leaving anything to chance this time around.
“The recent invitation of some persons for questioning by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission,EFCC, in connection with the bribery, is the beginning of the fresh effort to unravel all the issues related to the case and it is going on as planned.
“I want to say that if we need to proceed with criminal prosecution after our investigations, we will do that, and if we need to go for recovery and prosecution, we will do so. Nothing will be left to chance,” the minister said.
Asked to confirm the receipt of $200 million fines said to have been paid by the five multinational companies into a dedicated Federal Government account with the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, as declared last week by one of the lawyers, Damian Dodo, Malami said the investigation would establish the whereabouts of the said money.
The minister said that all claims related to the matter would be unravelled by the probe currently going on but did not name all the agencies involved in the current probe apart from the EFCC, which has already quizzed two of the five lawyers, who handled the case.
The immediate past AGF, Mohammed Adoke, in 2010, raised a five-man legal team to prosecute the companies indicted in the scam and they all opted to pay huge fines instead of being tried in Nigeria.
The legal team raised by Adoke was led by the then President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Joseph B. Dauda, with Mr. Emmanuel C. Ukala, Chief Godwin Obla, Roland Ewubare and Damian Dodo as members.
The companies which were involved in the bribery scandal and opted for payment of heavy fines and non-prosecution by Nigeria, were: Halliburton Energy Services, Siemens AG, TSKJ, Technip of France, Snamprogetti of Italy, Kellog, Brown and Roots of the U.S and Japan Gas Corporation and Julius Berger, which was accused of acting as a conduit for the illegal transfer of $5 million.
To avoid prosecution, JB immediately opted to pay a fine of $35 million to Nigeria and accordingly, let off the hook.