DTI probes Nigerian contract awarded to Halliburton group as bribery claims swirl

The Department of Trade & Industry is investigating a contract in Nigeria awarded to a consortium including Halliburton, the US group formerly run by Vice-President Dick Cheney, following allegations that massive bribes were paid.

The Export Credit Guarantee Department (ECGD), a DTI agency, gave £130m of cover to MW Kellogg, a UK subsidiary of Halliburton, for work on the Bonny Island liquid natural gas plant in Nigeria last January.

Last year French judge Renaud van Ruymbeke launched an ongoing probe into whether the Halliburton-led consortium that built the Bonny Island plant won the contract with millions of dollars of illegal payments.

The ECGD told The Independent of Sunday that it was reviewing the contract and was "actively and seriously looking at these issues in considerable depth" following the bribery allegations. It could withdraw the guarantees if it found the project was tainted by improper payments. An announcement of the ECGD's position is expected late next week

The department's spokes- man said that this was "quite a big test of our principles on bribery and corruption" and consequently there was " a lot of discussion on this issue" within the ECGD.

The TSKJ consortium started building the Bonny Island plant, which converts Nigerian natural gas into liquid for export by ship, in 1995. Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root led the team, along with France's Technip, Snamprogetti of Italy and JGC of Japan.

Judge van Ruymbeke was the prosecutor who uncovered the massive Elf scandal in France, involving payments from the oil company to politicians.

In the process of the Elf investigation he came across the payments on the Bonny Island plant, which allegedly include $180m (£99m) of "retrocommissions" paid by the consortium.

The French press reported that these commissions passed through firms in Madeira, a Portuguese tax shelter, and Gibraltar, and involved associates of former Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha.

The majority of the payments were made between 1995 and 1999 when Dick Cheney was Halliburton's chief executive.

Over recent years, the ECGD has toughened up its anti-corruption measures. The department now demands "details of any commission payments" on schemes and will make "further inquiries on cases where the level of commission appeared unduly high" or involved "government officers".

While the French allegations about commissions relate to the TSKJ consortium, the fact that the ECGD's support also involves both Halliburton and Bonny Island would be enough to trigger an inspection.

Halliburton executives were not available for comment on the ECGD appraisal. Halliburton UK insisted that Technip led the Bonny Island contractors, and referred enquiries to Technip's senior vice president, Jean Deseilligny, for comments.

M. Deseilligny, who has been interviewed by Judge van Ruyembeke as part of the investigation, did not respond, but Technip's press spokes- person stated that Halliburton "is the leader of the joint venture". Technip denied any wrongdoing.

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