British lawyer pleads guilty in Nigeria bribery case

12th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

A British legal adviser to US engineering firm Kellogg Brown & Root pleaded guilty Friday to charges stemming from a long-running probe into bribery to obtain contracts for a multibillion-dollar natural gas venture in Nigeria, officials said.

Jeffrey Tesler, a British solicitor and former consultant to the US firm, pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and one count of violating the act, the US Justice Department said.

Tesler, 62, was the latest to face justice in a decade-long scheme to bribe Nigerian government officials for contracts to build a liquefied natural gas facility on Bonny Island, Nigeria, valued at more than $6 billion.

Tesler was an adviser to KBR, which was a subsidiary of the US conglomerate Halliburton headed for several years by Dick Cheney before he was US vice president.

Halliburton and its former subsidiary KBR agreed to pay $579 million in US fines related to the ongoing federal investigation that has looked at firms from the United States and elsewhere

As part of his plea agreement entered in federal court in Houston, Texas, Tesler agreed to forfeit $148 million. At sentencing, scheduled for June 22, Tesler faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison on each of the two charges.

According to prosecutors, Tesler admitted that from 1994 through June 2004, he and his co-conspirators agreed to pay bribes to Nigerian government officials, including top-level executive branch officials, to obtain and retain contracts.

The joint venture hired Tesler as a consultant to pay bribes to high-level Nigerian government officials and hired a Japanese trading company to pay bribes to lower-level Nigerian government officials.

Investigators said the joint venture paid some $132 million in consulting fees to a Gibraltar corporation controlled by Tesler and more than $50 million to the Japanese trading company. Tesler admitted that he used the consulting fees he received from the joint venture, in part, to pay bribes to Nigerian government officials.

Tesler's co-defendant, Wojciech Chodan, was extradited from Britain on December 3, and pleaded guilty days later to charges of conspiracy to bribery.

Other firms which paid fines in the case include Italian energy giant ENI and its former Dutch subsidiary Snamprogetti, and French oil services firm Technip.

At one point Cheney was investigated in Nigeria in connection with the case, but officials in Nigeria said in December they had dropped the case after a settlement of $250 million.

© 2011 AFP

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