'War Crimes' Murmurs

At home, Bush, Warner, Lugar join the department of Rumsfeld defense

Nigeria has large oil and gas reserves, as do other nations bordering the Gulf of Guinea on the West African coast. These oil and gas finds are being developed by the big international petroleum companies in part to diversify supply away from the Middle East, where reserves show signs of beginning to run down, and in part because West Africa offers oil companies a direct and relatively short passage across the Atlantic to the gas-starved Northeastern U.S. The French, with their old colonial ties to West Africa, are competing with U.S.-based companies for the business.

The actual gas works at Bonny Bay are to be built by M.W. Kellogg, a subsidiary of Halliburton, which is in hot water over its sole-source contracts with the U.S. military in Iraq and elsewhere. Dick Cheney was president of Halliburton before he became vice president.

According to British press reports, it now appears that some of the British money for the Kellogg project took a circuitous route to end up as kickbacks to high officials in Nigeria. On a Channel 4 investigatory program, Patrick Smith, editor of the foreign-affairs journal Africa Confidential, which closely follows the gas deal, said, "For some time, rumors have been circulating in Nigeria that there was some sort of slush fund linked to the project, to buy favor within the communities of the Niger delta where the project is situated. There were stories that senior officials in the military had demanded some sort of kickbacks from the project; and there was a lot of skepticism that a project which was going to be worth a total of $10 billion could have been set up and executed without some form of kickback or bribery. And these rumors had continued about a slush fund."

Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld addresses Korean soldiers in Irbil, Iraq, on Oct. 10, 2004.  Rumsfeld is in Iraq to show support for the coalition troops and meet with Iraqi officials.
photo: Master Sgt. James M. Bowman, U.S. Air Force/defenselink.mil
Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld addresses Korean soldiers in Irbil, Iraq, on Oct. 10, 2004. Rumsfeld is in Iraq to show support for the coalition troops and meet with Iraqi officials.

Details

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Smith recalls speaking with the oil minister of Nigeria, who told of receiving a phone call from someone who said, "My name is London Weather, and we will set up an account for you, and every time I put money into it I will phone you up and say London Weather is calling." The minister said he turned down the offer.

More details of this deal were recently brought to light by Channel 4 journalists researching the gas deal documents and contracts. They suggest executives of M.W. Kellogg persuaded the gas consortium to buy "consultancy" services from a Gibraltar-based company named Tri-Star. Tri-Star was to be paid around 100 million pounds, through bank accounts in Switzerland and Monaco.

To date, Halliburton has fired two of its executives and reported discovering the existence of bribes. As for Cheney, the Nigerian deal surfaced after he became vice president. There have been rumors he was somehow involved, but so far he is unscathed.


Additional reporting: Nicole Duarte and David Botti

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