Home » EFCC Politics, Top Stories » Why We Struck The Halliburton Deal – Waziri

Why We Struck The Halliburton Deal – Waziri

While some people applauded the federal government over the plea bargain option in the celebrated Halliburton bribery scandal, others have strongly criticised it. In this interview, Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission ( EFCC), Farida Waziri explains why the federal government opted for the deal. She also opens up on other issues of relevance. Excerpts:
Why did you opt for plea bargaining in the Halliburton case, and how much have you recovered so far?

It’s not just Halliburton, there are others. I think I have to give you a rundown of what was recovered; the whole figures and everything else that was involved and why we decided to take that option instead of all out court trials.

There was Siemens; five officials of Siemens along with four other Nigerians were charged to Abuja High Court on a 35 count charge of conspiracy, bribery of government officials and the charges arose from allegations of bribery of Nigerian public officers amounting to approximately 10 million Euros in order to secure telecommunication contracts in Nigeria. So in the process, Siemens agreed to pay a total of N6,052,270 000 as consideration, N302,613,000 as legal cost and N100,871,000 as other expenses for investigation. Payment have been effected.

When?

Two weeks ago. Besides the payment, the company is to enter into a good corporate compliance and transparency programme, and it is also to issue a statement regretting its indiscretion and to desist from further infractions while carrying out business in this country.

We had Shell Company. It was accused of bribing Nigeria Customs officials through their agent, Panalpina World Transport to avoid payment of customs duties, totalling approximately two million USD between 2002 and 2007. We initiated criminal proceedings against Shell and its officials and in December 2010, Shell entered into a cease and desist settlement with the federal government to avoid further prosecution. Under the terms of settlement, Shell agreed to pay the sum of nine million USD as ex gratia payment to federal government. It also agreed to pay one million dollars as legal cost. In addition, Shell shall during one year report to federal government its implementation of a corporate compliance programme entered with the US authorities, pursuant to the US proceedings. Payment has also been effected.

In the case of Julius Berger, the company was charged along with other companies for conspiracy and bribery of Nigerian public officials associated with $6 billion Bonny/ LNG project. The alleged bribe totalled approximately, 182 million US dollars. To avoid prosecution of the case, the company agreed to pay the sum of 26 million US dollars as ex gratia payment to federal government and a further 3.5 million US dollars as legal cost of the investigation. The company also undertook to issue a letter regretting its indiscretion and to comply with corporate transparency in their business in Nigeria. The amount has been paid.

The next company was Snamprogetti (SIAPEM Nigeria limited). It’s one of the joint venture partners in the TSKJ consortium for the NLG, Bonny project and it was involved in $182 million bribery scandal. It was charged along with other consortium partners at the FCT High Court, and resorted to settling outside, under the terms of settlement and non-prosecution agreement signed with the federal government on December 10, 2010. The company agreed to pay 30 million US dollars, it also agreed to pay legal cost and other expenses of 2.5 million. It will also enter into two-year corporate transparency programme to be supervised by three persons, one of whom is to be appointed by the federal government. The company has also since effected the payment.

Halliburton, the one you’re interested in, was one of the joint venture partners in the TSKJ consortiums that was involved in the $182 million LNG bribery scandal. The company was charged along other ventures including former VP of the US, Dick Cheney, its former chief executive. The company sort a settlement with the federal government to avoid prosecution; a settlement was signed on December 11, 2010.

Under the terms of settlement, the company agreed to pay $32,500,000 as ex gratia payment; it will also pay 2.5 million as legal fees and other expenses. It will also implement a two-year transparency programme to be supervised by three persons, one of whom is to be appointed by the federal government. It will further issue a letter regretting its indiscretion. Payments are being expected.

There’s yet another company, TECHNIPP; this company was charged along with others, also for the LNG bribery scandal. It has also agreed to pay the sum of $30 million as ex gratia payment and $2.5 million as legal fees and other costs. Similarly, it is to implement corporate transparency programme for two years and issue a letter of regret. Payment is being expected.

So the summary of the recoveries are: Julius Berger- 26,000,000 USD; Snamprogetti – 30,000,000 USD; Halliburton – 32,500,000 USD; Technipp – 30,000,000 USD; Shell – 9,000,000 USD and Siemens – 40, 619,261.74 USD. The grand total in USD is $168,119,261.74 and in Naira, N25, 049,770,000.00.

We decided to take this option for variety of reasons; one, the plea bargaining is the latest and best world practice outside of Nigeria. The US and the UK governments are practising it. Where you cannot successfully sustain a charge in court and you want to recover, instead of losing the charge, losing the money, then you opt for plea bargaining and we did this because of the nature of our judicial system; it’s very slow and you know, it is said that justice delayed is justice denied; so we opted for this.

And lastly, we also want to put a stop to this negative attitude of foreign investors in Nigeria. What they can’t get away with in their country, they come here and do it with impunity. But because the impression or the perception is that Nigeria is so corrupt and that everybody is corrupt – there is no exception – they come in here and then resort to corrupting individuals and corrupting institutions; Contracts are done haphazardly.

These so-called bribes – they give it out and then inflate the contracts and because the contracts are not properly executed, we end up losing our money, but most of all, we end up losing our good name. The image is so bad, and then Transparency International comes up, with Nigeria being the most corrupt nation; the indices they use, we don’t know so we think we should put a stop to this. If you come in to do business here we have laws that guide on how to do business and they have to abide by it or face the penalty. But these cases have been on for so long, and the idea of taking a case to court is not just for the fun of it, but you have to weight the evidence, you have to weigh whether you can sustain the charge at all, whether there are witnesses. You all know that most of the officials involved directly with the bribery were all transferred outside the country and were even sacked from the parent bodies. They can’t come back here to assist us as witnesses, so we decided to opt for this, warn them, teach deterrent to other countries doing business in Nigeria because when it happens, they pay a lot of money to the American governments, just for breaking their laws anywhere in the world, while we are end up with our monies being laundered outside and with a bad name perpetually. So that is why we did this.

Compared to what America charged them and what they paid to the American government, how would you rate this, like a slap on the wrist? This payment they’ve made is pittance compared to what they paid to the US.

You see, we are doing this for the first time. It will get better. These things have been hanging, and no one was courageous enough to even touch it. A bird in hand they say is worth two in the bush. We better get something out of it than nothing at all. So we negotiated and don’t forget that the actual culprits left the country, so we had to negotiate. What the Americans got, we can’t compare but we are comfortable that a lesson has been learnt. These companies will even advise potential businessmen coming into Nigeria that, the federal government of Nigeria will not tolerate this sort of thing anymore. So that issue of deterrent is even more important to me than the money, to correct the image out there that in Nigeria, everybody is corrupt.

If you had your way, would you have barred them from doing business in Nigeria instead of  writing an understanding and all that, because the Chinese would have barred them?

Well, we have our laws and then we take into consideration also, the number of years this companies have done business in Nigeria and the number of Nigerians in their employ. They have contributed also to the economic progress of Nigeria and for instance, tell me one company that can successfully take over from a company like Julius Berger. Look at the roads, look at some of their buildings, they last for long, long time. So we’re looking at it in the interest of Nigeria as a whole.

How about Nigerian accomplices, will you still press charges?

Yes, a court this morning granted our application to arraign them on January 9.

Why should they face trial when the companies that committed the crime mostly have paid their way through?

No, you don’t say they have paid their way through; honestly, I want Nigerians to understand that these things happened a very long time ago, that the actual people involved have left Nigeria. Are you going to punish those who took over and know nothing about this? This is the best that we can do out of this. I think Nigerians should even applaud us for summing up the courage to take this decision. This is something that happened in 1994 to 2004, EFCC was not even in place then.

So we are telling Nigerians to enter into plea bargaining?

Well, plea bargaining may not be the best but it’s an option. We have cases in the EFCC that have been there for four years plus; today, I saw on the television, Dambaba and co. They were there for twelve years, the case was not completed but maybe they may have served a number of years and parole if the matter was concluded but they have already served twelve years. The other one, Al Mustapha, I think the case is still on; that’s about twelve years. So some witnesses would have died, some will even forget the vital facts of the case, so they will go to court at the mercy of the defence counsel who will during cross examination, mess them up thoroughly. So, it’s better; half bread is better than none.

Do you have enough evidence to prosecute Nigerians involved in the case?

Yes, we have evidence as much as we can.

From the Americans?

I have already said that it’s very dicey to get witnesses or the actual people that were involved to testify to a matter that has stayed so long. I feel that you should applaud us for what we’ve done, the deterrence effect is much more important than the money. This is a country that has been on the corruption index and everywhere in the world, everybody is talking about Nigeria. But don’t forget that some people are responsible and it takes two to tangle. If you can’t help fight corruption, then don’t help to destroy Nigeria. If Nigerians are destroying Nigeria, we will know that Nigerians hate their country and posterity will judge them but we have to put a stop to it.

You say you don’t have evidence to prosecute these companies, is it not the same evidence you need to prosecute Nigerians who are involved?

It is because the Nigerians that perpetrated this are known to us, they are with us. The other people responsible have left.

So who is going to testify?

Well, we could have some people who will testify, we could have a statement of account from the bank, owned by those Nigerians to tender that the money came through or we could have what they acquired with the money, and some of them have voluntarily made statement, confessional statements. We will use such statements to judge them.

So this evidence is not enough to prosecute the companies?

No.

What does this achievement mean to the EFCC?

It’s a very big achievement. To me, it’s very courageous, and it means a lot to us as a commission and the office of the Attorney general that it is no more business as usual. For companies doing business in Nigeria, the notion that everybody is a desperado in Nigeria and you can just use peanuts to corrupt us and give us a bad name is history. So it’s a big breakthrough.

Does this agency have the capacity to investigate foreign companies in Nigeria to achieve results?

Sure, of course. Our law allows us. Don’t forget that once you leave the shores of your country, and you are doing business in Nigeria, the laws are binding. Once you are here, you are expected to obey the laws of the Nigeria or you will be tried to serve your sentence here in Nigeria. If we deport you, it’s not good enough, you’re not being punished but if we arraign you, and you’re sentenced, then others will take cue from there.

You did that to the Vaswani brothers and they are back in the country.

Well, but I did it! The most important thing is that I did it.

You may have read the US Senate report on former Vice President Atiku Abubakar. The notion was that at that time he couldn’t be prosecuted because he had immunity. Don’t you think the EFCC should invite him to answer some of the question raised in that report?

I have not read any report from the US; can you make a copy available to me?

But if you are given a copy will you invite him?

I think when we come to the bridge, we will cross it.

Closely related to that is the issue of some of your suspects who are standing trial, aspiring to lead this country in 2011. What is the position of the commission on this?

Well, the position of the commission is that we have arraigned them, they are standing trial in court, so it is left to the political parties, it is left to Nigerian voters to think twice, it is left to them. Our law does not allow us to go out and politick about. The criminal aspect is what we have done; we didn’t hide anything, we arraigned them, it’s in public domain that they are standing trials. The other day they adjourned some, published it, and that is as best as we can do; we can’t do anything else.

But don’t you think there should be a law in that respect?

Well, if you ask me, I feel that we asked for special courts that are just for economic crimes but nobody listened and you (journalists) did not even press home the point that we need special courts, because if Ghana has special courts, South Africa has special courts, why can’t we, giant of Africa have one? And we say corruption is endemic! Someone is standing trial for four years and his posters are everywhere that he wants to be … so whose fault is that? It’s you Nigerians that are so docile and cowardly.

That brings us to the issue of Ibori. Recently, his wife, sister and friend were prosecuted and sentenced in the US. Why was it difficult for EFCC to do that here?

But I have already given you an example of cases that have been here for four years. You should ask that to the judiciary. Honestly, I have already told you why our system is so slow. You know very well the British and American systems. Madoff’s case was tried less than one year and that is their system. We have this problem of the slow pace of trial; I don’t know what is responsible but I believe the very nature of the judicial system in this country is the issue.

So the problem is with the judiciary?

But this is the thing; I have been crying for special courts, I pointed out countries that have special courts. A Bill was already processed to the National Assembly and it was thrown out. I heard the reasoning – that there are too many courts – but the day all hands are on deck to fight corruption in this country, including the media; I think we will wipe it out.

Now that they have been convicted, in what way is the nation benefitting from it in terms of repatriation of looted funds?

At the end of the trial, we have great cooperation with the MET police. We are talking – some of our witnesses flew out to London to go and testify, some of those that couldn’t travel testified here in Nigeria and it was tendered in court and accepted over there, and the cooperation will continue in case of other cases. We filed a case in Kaduna, then Asaba, 170 counts that was quashed. There, we attached some assets that we could lay hands on so if they are out there as well, it’s part of our assets that we are already gunning for. So at the end of the trial, we’ll sit down and talk about the assets and what belongs to us.

Recently, there was a report that you wrote a letter to the London court saying there were no charges against Ibori.

That is not true please, give me a break. Don’t speculate; I expect you to investigate. I couldn’t have sent people to testify and say at the same time that there is no evidence. Ibori’s case had many angles; I recall that some lawyers who were handling some of the aspects were writing a particular angle of the case that was not particularly connecting Ibori. Maybe that is what you’re talking about but I never wrote that he has no case to answer.

Are you playing any role in his appeal to the Supreme Court in Dubai?

Well, we are waiting; we are not dealing directly with Dubai, we are dealing with the MET police who are the ones involved so if there is anything they want us to do; more evidence, document, then we…

How would you assess the performance of the commission so far?

You know, I feel that this year, we did a lot. The high profile case of Cecilia Ibru, I think it’s a ground-breaking case for various reasons that I won’t want to tell you, she was a very powerful woman and for us to break through and in a single recovery get N191 billion… a lot of people are asking why she didn’t go to jail…for her, that  is sentence. Whether you went to jail for one day, it’s a conviction, a record for ever except you are pardoned by the federal government – and then she forfeited a lot of things; 191 billion from a single person!

Another big break-through is the case of the multinationals; I’m very happy about this case because if you go out there and hear people talk about Nigeria! But who are contributing to the corruption in Nigeria? Because people are poor, you take advantage of their poverty. So we are very happy about these big firms, and they will tell the story out there.

But when Cecilia Ibru was convicted did you shed tears because she is a woman like you?

No! How can I do that? I didn’t cry because really, I felt pained why anyone should go to that length. If you have shifty hands, you can pray to your God to help you; and involving the children was really something else. I felt that this is a woman I used to respect a lot; it was like a dream and then the assets…what do you need those assets for? We need to examine some people because if you’re stealing and you’re stealing what you don’t need then something is wrong with you.

Apart from Ibru, we learnt that other bank chiefs are trying to get into plea bargaining…

The trials are ongoing and we will welcome any bank chief that wants to do plea bargaining because at least we will get a conviction.

Akingbola gained entrance into his seized mansion and he was celebrating in the media.

It was a court judgement and we didn’t want to be seen to disobey court orders the rule of law is paramount and I didn’t want to be seen for one minute to disobey court orders.

You came with huge expectations to fight corruption. Are you facing any frustrations, especially from the government?

No, the government is in support of…President Goodluck Jonathan has said it many times and he has done a lot to show he is encouraging the fight against corruption. It is under him that we got insurance scheme for our staff, it’s under him that we got salaries restructured, hazard allowance, and the mother of all of them, he has approved building of a befitting headquarters for the EFCC together with a world-class laboratory to enhance our job performances.

But of course, we have challenges from others; for instance, when I was coming it was tumultuous. There were some groups that vowed that I will not be appointed and they have never stopped since then because they couldn’t believe it. So they never stopped undermining me, writing petitions against me, writing false reports in the media. I have sued two newspapers so far.

But you were not discouraged…is it because of what you are earning here?

No, it’s not because of what I’m earning; it was because I thought it was divine. I hate corruption, so when they set up EFCC and called me to bring my CV. They said I have the qualities, but in the end I didn’t get the job, so I went away for three-and-a-half years with my husband who was appointed ambassador in Turkey. As soon as I came back, the issue of EFCC started again and I was told they wanted to enlarge the EFCC board and I was to be appointed a board member; I was happy, very happy. But when it was my CV that they picked, that I should be the chairman, I thought it’s divine. It’s not every time you finish a job and then you are called back to serve so I really thought that I had the experience, commitment and courage to do it. I don’t look very courageous but I am.

So you won’t resign as being insinuated?

Well, that again, is the enemies; they put something in the paper that i will resign. I never told them so (laughter). They also said I should resign; they are the ones who put the story there, but there’s one thing; if you don’t believe in God, start right now. I never dreamt I will be on this seat for two years, that’s why I celebrated and wrote milestone when i did two years because the threat was always there, no one moment of peace and some of the people that wanted me sacked. So any day God says I have done enough, I will celebrate and write my memoires and some of the things that I can’t tell you, you will read it.

And another challenging thing this year was that, for the first time in the history of the commission, the operatives were coming under attack. The head of forensic lab was killed in his house in Kaduna and of course, there was Eze the Seargent; they were ambushed and killed on their way to Imo. Recently, there was cross gunfire around Oka but nobody was killed and it’s happening for the first time so we are very much alert. Coming here, you could see the mobile police and check points due to the bomb threat that I received. They sent me a text and I’m not taking it lying low because when you are fighting desperados, they are desperate, they can do anything.

I really thank President Goodluck Jonathan; I came back to talk to the officers that, to whom much is given, much is expected. So we are happy working without interference.

What is your agenda for 2011?

Well, it’s a political year, we have strategies that we are working on but it’s in the pipeline, I don’t want to discuss what we are working towards but anytime there’s election, people are apprehensive but I don’t see any serious threat. The president is saying, one man, one vote and from the demeanour of many Nigerians I think they are happy for a credible and transparent election 2011 because everybody is fed up. If Ghana could get it right, why can’t we? So we at the side of economic crime are strategising towards 2011

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