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LNG Probe: Swiss Freezes $100m Account

Posted by By Mike Oduniyi with agency report on 2004/12/05 | Views: 1347 |

LNG Probe: Swiss Freezes $100m Account


The Swiss justice authorities have frozen bank accounts containing $100 million, which were linked to the $180 million allegedly collected as bribe by Nigerian government officials in the award of the Bonny Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) contracts.

House hails move

The Swiss justice authorities have frozen bank accounts containing $100 million, which were linked to the $180 million allegedly collected as bribe by Nigerian government officials in the award of the Bonny Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) contracts.

The bribe saga is a subject of an on-going investigation by the House of Representatives.

In a swift reaction, the Chairman of the House Committee on Public petitions, Hon. Chudi Offodile, said the freezing of the accounts was "a plus for co-operation between nations in an attempt to unravel the mystery surrounding the scam."

Agency reports quoted a Geneva state investigator, Daniel Dumartheray, as having confirmed that the restriction on the account was imposed after France asked Switzerland to grant judicial assistance for its investigation in the case. Dumartheray declined to identify the account holders or the banks involved.

The French investigation, launched in October 2003, centers on allegations that the TSKJ consortium paid illegal commissions in connection with a $4 billion contract it won in 1995 to build and expand a Nigerian liquefied natural gas plant.

The four partners in the consortium were M.W. Kellogg Co., a subsidiary of Dresser Industries; Technip SA of France; ENI SpA of Italy; and Japan Gasoline Corp.

After the TKSJ consortium was formed, the consortium in turn, created a subsidiary, LNG Services based on the Portugese island of Madeira, a place where tax laws exempt businesses.

LNG Services, in turn, paid $180 million to yet another entity called Tristar (Gibralter--a British tax haven) for unspecified services.
US oil services giant Halliburton acquired Dresser in 1998 and combined its Brown & Root subsidiary with M.W. Kellogg to form engineering and construction unit, KBR.

The consortium got other contracts for the construction of the third, fourth, fifth and sixth trains of the Bonny LNG plant between 1999 and 2004.
Halliburton had disclosed in a regulatory filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, that improper payments to Nigerian officials might have been made in order to win the LNG contract.

The company also said US officials had issued subpoenas to current and former employees of Kellogg Brown & Root, its engineering and construction unit.
In September, Halliburton said an internal probe found information suggesting that members of the TSKJ consortium, which it helps lead, considered bribing Nigerian functionaries a decade ago.

At the time, the company turned over the evidence to the US Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission and a French magistrate who in turn gave the information to a Nigerian tribunal. Published reports have stated that Jeffrey Tesler, a TSKJ agent and British lawyer, is under investigation by the French magistrate.

The House of Representa-tives had equally summoned principal officers involved at the early stage of the LNG project. Those summoned included former petroleum minister Don Etiebet and former chairman of the Nigeria LNG Limited (NLNG), Alhaji M. D. Yusufu.

Etiebet, current chairman of the All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) had since denied receiving any bribe, while Yussuf admitted taken some loans from Tesler
Offodile told THISDAY that there were moves by some of the parties involved to challenge the order freezing the accounts. He added that the House was trying to get the presidency to collaborate more with the legislative arm on matters such as loot recovery.

Offodile urged the executive to note that there was currently pressure from the Swiss private sector on what to do with recovered stolen money and called for a concerted approach by the Nigerian authorities.

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