As if the fight over his energy task force documents werent enough, or the release of 9-11 information, or the flak surrounding Halliburtons Iraq contracts, now theres the possibility our vice president may be indicted by a French court for bribery.
The Nation magazine reports the core of this issue is a $6 billion gas liquification factory built by Halliburton in Nigeria for Shell Oil Co. Dick Cheney was formerly the CEO of Halliburton.
This project was carried out in partnership with Technip, a big French petroengineering company.
Nigeria is ranked as the second-most corrupt country on the planet, topped only by Bangladesh. Judge Renaud van Ruymbeke, celebrated for uncovering a slew of major French campaign finance scandals in the 1990s, has been probing the Nigeria deal since last October.
Three days before Christmas, the Paris daily Le Figaro reported the judge has notified the Justice Ministry that Cheney may eventually be among those indicted as a result of his investigation.
In a scenario that echoes the predicament of former Illinois Gov. George Ryan, the judge said he believes that some or all of $180 million in secret retrocommissions paid by Halliburton and Technip were actually bribes that went to Nigerian officials and others.
French press reports said the judge has identified the bagman in this deal as Jeffrey Tesler, a 55-year-old London lawyer. Tesler is a 30-year employee of Halliburton.
Press accounts claim Tesler was paid the $180 million as a consultant fee through a Gibraltar-based front company called TriStar, which he established.
TriStar got the money from a consortium set up by Halliburton and Technip expressly for the Nigeria deal. It was registered in the Portuguese island of Madeira, where taxes dont apply.
Agence France-Presse reported a former top Technip official, Georges Krammer, testified that the Madeira-based group was a slush fund run by Halliburton through its subsidiary, Kellogg Brown&Root and Technip.
Dan Etete, former Oil Minister to the late Nigerian dictator, Gen. Sani Abacha, is suspected of using some of the alleged bribe money to get himself fancy apartments in Paris and a chateau in Normandy.
Etete was deposed by Judge van Ruymbeke last month. According to the Journal du Dimanche, a Sunday publication, Etetes testimony appeared to confirm the judges suspicions that Tesler laundered the $180 million through offshore and other accounts, and that part of the money wound up in the hands of Abacha. Teslers bank accounts in Monaco, Switzerland and elsewhere have been subpoenaed to find out where the cash went.
The basis for Judge van Ruymbekes investigative authority comes from a French law passed in 2000 barring bribing foreign officials. The Nation says it is highly unlikely that the judges targeting of Cheney is motivated by the Bush administrations exclusion of France from the Iraq reconstruction contracts.
The magazine says the judge is very independent and has probed politicians and others on both the left and the right in the past. He also previously investigated bribe-paying by the French petrogiant Elf. In fact, it was in the course of that investigation that the judge discovered the Nigerian deal.
The alleged bribe money for Nigeria was paid between 1995 and 2000 while Cheney ran Halliburton. The Journal du Dimanche said it is probable some of the money found its way back to this country. The paper asked if that money went to Halliburton officials or to officials of the Republican Party.
The issue is another time bomb ticking away before the November elections.