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Government begins Halliburton inquiry
Company says it didn't break any bribery laws

by SETH BORENSTEIN FREE PRESS WASHINGTON STAFF
Detroit Free Press

June 12, 2004

WASHINGTON -- The federal government has opened a formal investigation into charges that Halliburton Inc. bribed Nigerian officials during the 1990s, when Vice President Dick Cheney was chief executive officer of the conglomerate, the company disclosed Friday.

The company's announcement of a formal Securities and Exchange Commission investigation means that a majority of the Bush-appointed SEC commissioners voted -- at the request of investigators -- to give its staff subpoena power to obtain Halliburton documents.

The Department of Justice is also looking into the matter, the company said, and a French magistrate is also investigating.

The case involves alleged payments of $180 million by TSKJ, a U.S.-French-Japanese-Italian consortium, to Nigerian officials so the company could build a $4-billion liquified-natural-gas plant. Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root -- already under fire by critics who say it overcharged the U.S. government for services in Iraq -- owns 25 percent of TSKJ.

"We do not believe the company has violated" the law prohibiting bribery overseas, Halliburton spokeswoman Wendy Hall said in an e-mail.

The company said in its announcement that an ongoing internal inquiry found that Halliburton hadn't violated the law, but it cautioned investors: "There can be no assurance that government authorities would not conclude otherwise."

A year ago, Halliburton admitted in a document filed with the SEC that it had made improper payments of $2.4 million to a Nigerian tax official, but "none of our senior officers were involved."

SEC spokesman John Heine said he couldn't comment on the investigation or on what, if any, involvement Cheney had in the payments. A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.

The allegation of bribery in the African country, known as a hotbed of corruption, comes after Halliburton acknowledged in January that two of its employees had demanded kickbacks of up to $6 million from Kuwaiti companies. The employees were fired.

White House spokesman Trent Duffy referred all questions to the vice president's office, which had no immediate comment.

Cheney was CEO of Halliburton from 1995 to 2000. He left to become the Republican vice presidential candidate.

Usually, companies investigated by the SEC agree to cooperate to keep any probe informal and to prevent the need for regulators to broaden their inquiry into a formal investigation, said business ethics experts and former SEC officials.

This appears not to be the case here, they said.

Contact SETH BORENSTEIN at sborenstein@krwashington.com.

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