The NYT reports Dick Cheney's former employer, Halliburton, reportedly agreed to pay $35 million to see charges dropped after Nigeria charged Cheney and applied for an Interpol arrest warrant earlier this month in connection with a $180-million bribery case.
But lawyers and media pundits in Nigeria are accusing the government of acting illegally by agreeing to settle criminal bribery charges against Dick Cheney out of court. Critics of the deal say it has no basis in Nigerian law, which reportedly does not allow plea deals in criminals cases.
In a letter to Nigeria's anti-corruption watchdog, Osuagwu Ugochukwu, a prominent lawyer in Abuja, said the withdrawal of charges against Cheney was a breach of the law.
We know as a point of law that once a criminal charge has been filed in a competent court, issue of penalty of fine is for the courts to impose and not parties," he wrote. "Hence, we are shocked to hear that EFCC imposed a fine on an accused person. We also know as a point of law that criminal matters cannot be settled out of court as in civil matters in Nigeria."
Many observers have likened the deal to an officially sanctioned bribe by Halliburton -- or as a shake-down of the Texas-based oilfield services company by the Nigerian government.
KBR, until 2007 a subsidiary of Halliburton, was among companies that paid bribes to secure a $6 billion contract for a natural gas plant. The company pleaded guilty to the bribes in a US court in 2009, and agreed to pay a $382 million fine.
The company’s legal headaches may not be over yet, however. According to Halliburton’s latest quarterly report, criminal and civil inquiries related to the bribes are still under way in Britain, France and Switzerland. In the most advanced inquiry,the British authorities are considering criminal prosecution or civil charges against a KBR-owned subsidiary that took part in the Nigerian deal, the company said.
A shareholder lawsuit filed in May 2009 that alleges widespread corporate malfeasance by Halliburton could also eat into profits. The lawsuit, brought by Detroit’s municipal retirement system for police officers and firefighters, cites the Nigerian bribery case as one of several examples of alleged wrongdoing by Halliburton and its subsidiaries and charges top executives with breach of fiduciary duty for failing to rein in the offenses.