Democrats & Liberals Archives

How well do we know the man behind the curtain?

Recently, much speculation on whether President Bush is giving serious consideration to dropping his Veep off the 2004 ticket has been making the rounds. Considering the herculean efforts of the current Administration in keeping the Vice President out of the spotlight while utilizing his considerable power connections, why all the sudden clamor?

Well, it seems a charge involving Cheney and his tenure at Halliburton as CEO is gaining ground. The allegation is that a 180 million dollar bribe between the former Nigerian government and Halliburton took place during the years 1995-2002 (Cheney was chief executive officer from 1995-2000, the majority of the time the seedy practice would have occurred), and may well be the catalyst for examining what Cheney’s role will be next election.

These are perilous times for Halliburton, the Houston-based energy-services-and-engineering giant once headed by Vice-President Dick Cheney. The beneficiary of lucrative contracts to provide support services to the US military and to rebuild much of the Iraqi economy, Halliburton — whose 2003 revenues exceeded $16 billion — has been accused of corruption, cronyism, and profiteering. "At a time when Halliburton is defrauding the federal government and facing serious allegations of bribery, we look forward to taking this debate to George Bush," said Massachusetts senator John Kerry, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, in a statement issued by his campaign earlier this month.

Yet amid embarrassing headlines that accuse Halliburton of taking kickbacks from a Kuwaiti contractor and of overcharging the US government for such necessities as gasoline for military vehicles and meals for the troops, a darker, more ominous story is beginning to emerge. It is a story from a different time and place — 1995 through 2002, in Nigeria. It is a story of alleged corruption on a scale that far exceeds anything with which the company may be involved in Iraq. And because it largely coincides with the period when Cheney was Halliburton’s chief executive officer (1995-2000), it could have far-reaching implications for George W. Bush’s re-election campaign, and beyond.

The story defies easy summary. In essence, an international consortium of four companies, including Halliburton’s Kellogg Brown & Root subsidiary, is suspected of having paid a $180 million bribe to the former government of Nigeria in order to build a liquefied-natural-gas plant in that country valued at $4 billion to $6 billion. The other companies are from France, Italy, and Japan. The alleged bribe has been under investigation since last year by Renaud van Ruymbeke, a French judge with a reputation for probity and independence. Van Ruymbeke has gone so far as to suggest that he may summon Cheney to France to be questioned about what, if anything, he knew about the payments — and possibly even to face legal charges. Recently, the Nigerian government, the US Justice Department, and the Securities and Exchange Commission opened their own inquiries into the Nigerian matter. And Halliburton has retained a lawyer with close ties to the Bush administration to conduct an internal investigation.

With a President struggling to maintain a 50% approval rating and desperate for a win in November, it will be curious to see how the Republican spin-meisters will be able to mitigate the damage of the VP's revealed past.

Posted by tamsen at February 29, 2004 5:51 PM