The United States (US) is seeking the extradition of a 72-year-old British businessman, Wojciech Chodan, who gave over $100m bribes to some Nigerian politicians to win contracts for construction giant Halliburton.
A Westminister Magistrate’s Court in London heard yesterday that Chodan conspired with others to pay $132m bribes to the politicians to get $6billion contracts to build liquefied natural gas plants at Bonny Island, Rivers Sate.
US prosecutors want Chodan flown to Texas to stand trial for his alleged involvement in the bribery.
He faces up to 55 years in jail if convicted. His barrister said that it was “unjust and oppressive” to “haul him out of his domestic bliss” with his wife in a Somerset village and send him to the US where he could die in jail.
David Perry, QC for the US government, said the bribes were paid covertly via bank accounts in Switzerland, Monaco and New York. Chodan worked as a sales executive for the London subsidiary of Halliburton.
According to US prosecutors, Chodan conspired to send a message to the “top man” in Nigeria saying that “we are ready to do business in a customary manner”.
Perry said extradition was justified as Chodan’s alleged crimes had “a substantial connection” to the US.
That argument was rejected by Chodan’s QC, Ian Winter, who said: “almost none” of Chodan’s alleged involvement was connected to the US.
He said the alleged corrupt conduct, such as meetings to arrange the kickbacks or the transfers of money, occurred outside the US, and mainly in the United Kingdom or Nigeria.
He said it was unnecessary and disproportionate to extradite Chodan as the US had already “investigated, arrested, prosecuted and convicted the principal corporate beneficiary of the crime and the principal American national responsible for it”.
Halliburton and related companies agreed last year to pay a $579m fine, one of the largest in US corporate history, to settle the case after admitting making improper payments to Nigerian officials. Jack Stanley, an executive, has also pleaded guilty and faces jail.
Winter told the court that Chodan faced a “terrifying” jail sentence in the US when the British government had chosen not to prosecute him for crimes which allegedly happened in the UK.
The court heard that the US and UK governments had privately discussed which government should prosecute Chodan.
The US Department of Justice told the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) in a private letter in February last year that “it has decided that the US should prosecute Mr Chodan”.
Yesterday, District Judge Caroline Tubbs adjourned the hearing till April 20 when she is expected to give her verdict on whether Chodan should be sent to the US.
The US is also seeking the extradition of London lawyer, Jeffrey Tesler, who is accused of playing a leading role in the bribery. Tesler, 61, is alleged to have laundered the bribes to the Nigerians.
M.W. Kellogg Ltd. (MWKL), a British joint venture in which Houston-based Kellog, Brown & Root (KBR) owns 55%, is seeking plea negotiations with SFO to settle its investigation into the bribery.
“MWKL has informed SFO that it intends to self-report corporate liability for corruption-related offences arising out of the Bonny Island project,” said Halliburton, which formerly owned KBR.
In a filing with US financial regulators, Halliburton said that MWKL, which held part of KBR’s stake in the Nigerian project, expects to receive SFO confirmation that it will be admitted into a plea negotiation process.
Halliburton did not detail the potential impact of MWKL’s SFO plea impact, but said it expected its remaining obligation to KBR was $72 million effective yearend 2009—excluding the remaining money to resolve the earlier US investigations.
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