Nine months have passed since the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission began investigations into the Halliburton bribery scandal, yet nothing has been said about the key suspects beyond the harassment of the legal team involved in the negotiation of the plea bargain with the companies fingered in the bribery scandal. Davidson Iriekpen reports
It’s been nine wasted months now since the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) opened fresh investigation into the Halliburton bribery scandal, yet nothing has been heard about the case beyond the interrogation of the five senior lawyers said to be involved in the negotiation of the plea bargain with the companies fingered in the bribery scandal to ascertain their complicity.
The lawyers, one after the other, have been invited and interrogated with no charges brought against them beyond intimidation and media war initiated against them. Amongst those being investigated is the immediate past Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Bello Adoke, who put together the team.
Apart from Adoke, who is presently not in the country, the five other lawyers are Damian Dodo (SAN), Godwin Obla (SAN), a representative of the EFCC, Mr. Joseph Daudu (SAN), the then President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. E.C. Ukala (SAN) and Roland Ewubare, then Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
They have all at different times, individually appeared before the anti-graft agency to answer questions on all they know about the scandal and their involvement in the negotiation of the plea bargain with the companies fingered in the bribery scandal to ascertain whether they committed any offence or not.
The companies involved in the bribery scandal were: Halliburton; Siemens AG; TSKJ, Technip of France: Snamprogetti of Italy; Kellog, Brown and Roots of the United State; Japan Gas Corporation (JGC); and construction giant, Julius Berger, which was accused of acting as a conduit for the illegal transfer of $5 million to an alleged beneficiary.
While those involved in the bribery scandal from foreign countries have since been punished by their respective governments either through fines or jail terms, the beneficiaries from Nigeria are yet to be fished out and sanctioned. So far, what Nigerians have seen is the subtle intimidation and harassment of the legal team involved in the negotiation of the plea bargain with the companies fingered in the bribery scandal.
The questions begging for answers are: Why is the federal government afraid to arrest and interrogate the key culprits in the bribery scandal? Are they known? What are they waiting for? Why is government after the lawyers, who recovered millions of dollars for the country?
The interrogation came to light when Dodo, in his defence to the EFCC, a copy of which was obtained by THISDAY, said rather than being vilified, the legal team ought to be commended for their patriotic roles in recovering $200 million for the federal government for which some of them were conferred with national honours.
He added that what his team of lawyers got from the deal was only payments for their legal services and nothing more. The senior lawyer said the five lawyers were duly engaged by the federal government to handle the case and bring culprits to book, having been indicted by their respective home countries in the bribery scandal.
Dodo said some companies opted for payments of heavy fines in order to escape prosecution in Nigeria. He cited the example of Julius Berger, which opted to pay a fine of $35 million to Nigeria to avoid prosecution.
“In all, the professional fees and costs due the legal team as received by the trio of Daudu, Obla and Dodo were disbursed to members of the legal team as directed by their leader, Daudu. It is worth pointing out that relevant agencies of government were involved in the settlement agreements, including the offices of the National Security Adviser (NSA) and the EFCC. The Secretary of the EFCC, Mr. Emmanuel Akomaye, witnessed three of the agreements, namely, Snamprogetti, Halliburton and Japan Gasoline Corporation on behalf of the federal government.”
Quoting clause six of the agreement reached with Japan Gasoline Corporation, Dodo, said: “The Federal Government of Nigeria confirms that the reimbursement of the government legal costs to the designated counsel in the terms of the agreement is lawful under the Nigerian laws and regulations, and the government counsel has confirmed to the Federal Government of Nigeria that no proceeds of such reimbursement will be provided to any government officials.
“Upon assumption of office as Acting President in 2010, former President Goodluck Jonathan instructed the investigation of the entities involved in the making and receipt of illegal payments based on the request of the US government in particular and the international community in general.
“The then National Security Adviser (NSA), General Aliyu Gusau (rtd), anchored the investigation effort while the operational and procedural initiatives were tasked to the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation and the EFCC.
“The Attorney General constituted a strong and diverse legal team led overall by the then President of the NBA, Daudu. Given the urgency of the effort and the scope of work to be done, an initial question arose as to the mechanics of payment of legal fees to the lawyers instructed to handle these cases. The Attorney General indicated that he had no budget for legal fees for the matter.”
The senior lawyer stated after the team was constituted by Adoke, and given the urgency of the effort and the scope of work to be done, an initial question arose as to the modalities of payment of legal fees to the lawyers instructed to handle these cases. He revealed that when they approached Adoke for funds, he told them that he had no budget for legal fees for the matter. At this point, he said, after considerable discussions by the team, it was agreed that the fees and reasonable costs of counsel be paid by the accused entities as part of any settlement package.
On how the lawyers arrived at the legal fee of 10 per cent, he noted that they simply followed the precedence for such fees that had already existed with instructions given by former AGF, Chief Bayo Ojo (SAN) to the lawyers involved in the prosecution of the Pfizer criminal defendants. Under the Pfizer case, which was prosecuted, the current Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo (SAN), was the lead counsel and principal partner of the Simmons Coopers law firm, which initiated the fee mechanism in Nigeria, the fees of counsel were paid by Pfizer corporation as part of the settlement with Kano State Government on one hand and the federal government on the other.
To many analysts, it is baffling to see the EFCC leave the real culprits in the Halliburton scandal and going after the lawyers, who assisted the federal government recover about $200million. They wondered what the job of a typical lawyer is if not to take or receive commission which was what the lawyers in the Halliburton case did.
Others are therefore wondering why it is the lawyers’ fees that have taken the front-burner in the investigation. They are also surprised that the federal government would be interested in the case against the lawyers when no money was taken from its treasury as fees to them. It was gathered that the only fees the lawyers got came from the defaulting companies.
THISDAY investigation revealed that before the Nigerian government set up the team, it had contacted a leading law firm in the US to act on its behalf in the Halliburton bribery scandal. It was gathered that the law firm, based in Philadelphia, had proposed the return of 33 per cent as fees as is the standard practice in the US for contingency litigation matters. It was gathered that it was when the Nigerian government turned down the fees as too outrageous that it settled for the Daudu-Dodo team.
Moreover, it was learnt that the Halliburton fines were calculated and imposed based on the stipulations in the US Federal Sentencing Guidelines. The guidelines set the award and scoring parameters for determining levels of fines to be imposed. For example, portions of the guidelines provide for treble damages where a criminal defendant is fined three times the profit gained or three times the loss avoided in the context of the matter at hand.
Currently, no such guideline exists in Nigeria beyond the sanctions imposed in the Criminal Code or Penal Code.
Also, THISDAY gathered that because Halliburton and other companies involved in the scandal were already punished under US law, there arose the real issue of double jeopardy when the Federal Government of Nigeria sought to recover monies from these same companies. A source close to the legal team informed THISDAY that it was the ingenuity of the team coupled with the enforcement muscle of the EFCC that led to the recovery of over $200million from the companies that had already been fined and sanctioned by the US authorities.
It stated that what Nigerians and the world expected from the federal government was to investigate and reveal the identifies of the main bribe takers in government between 1994 and 2004 rather than go after the lawyers.
“It is a distraction to pursue the lawyers who recovered fines from the bribe giver companies (offenders), which offenders were made to bear the fees of federal government’s lawfully appointed lawyers working with EFCC in 2010 (nearly 6 to 10 years after the bribery incident). Seeking to confuse both still does not answer the question. Why would Halliburton, having been sanctioned by US government and in paying fine to the Nigerian government, choose to bribe again in legal fees?” the source said.
Other questions include: Did the lawyers do anything wrong? Did they really remit the amount they received from the plea bargain deal to the coffers of the federal government? Why are they being hunted when the bribe takers are working the streets free? It is left for the EFCC to answer these questions once and for all or let the lawyers be forever.
While those involved in the bribery scandal from foreign countries have since been punished by their respective governments either through fines or jail terms, the beneficiaries from Nigeria are yet to be fished out and sanctioned. So far, what Nigerians have seen is the subtle intimidation and harassment of the legal team involved in the negotiation of the plea bargain with the companies fingered in the bribery scandal