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Nigeria drops charges against Cheney

LAGOS, Dec 17 – Nigeria dropped charges Friday against US ex-vice president Dick Cheney and others over a bribery scandal allegedly involving Halliburton after a settlement, an anti-graft agency spokesman said.

"The charges were dropped today," the spokesman, Femi Babafemi, told AFP. The settlement involves a total of 250 million dollars, he said.

Others charged included Halliburton CEO David Lesar, as well as Halliburton Inc., its former subsidiary Kellogg Brown and Root (KBR), former KBR head Albert "Jack" Stanley and that firm’s current leader William Utt.

Babafemi said charges were dropped against all nine people and entities named in the indictment filed on December 7, including Cheney, who was head of energy firm Halliburton before becoming vice president after 2000 elections.

Negotiators had reached a deal at weekend talks in London, but the Nigerian government still had to approve it. Another source familiar with the case speaking on condition of anonymity confirmed the charges were dropped Friday.

Babafemi has previously said the 250 million would include some 130 million currently frozen in Switzerland, with the rest paid in fines.

Another source had confirmed the 250 million total amount, but said 100 million was in Switzerland, while a further 30 million dollars was in Monaco.

Those sums had been paid to an intermediary, but were never passed on as part of the bribery scheme, according to the source.

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The case involves an alleged 182 million dollar cash-for-contract scandal over 10 years until 2005 over construction of a liquefied natural gas plant in southern Nigeria.

The consortium involved in the gas plant, TSKJ, was also charged. Companies in TSKJ included France’s Technip, Snamprogetti (formerly a subsidiary of a company owned by Italy’s Eni), KBR and Japan’s JGC.

US authorities said last year that Halliburton and KBR had agreed to pay 177 million dollars to settle charges from the Securities and Exchange Commission in the United States over the scandal.

KBR agreed to pay a further 402 million dollars to settle criminal charges brought by the US Justice Department.

A prosecutor in the Nigerian case had said before charges were filed that negotiations were underway with companies allegedly linked to the scandal, raising the question of whether indictments would be used as leverage in talks.

The charges also came ahead of elections in April, with President Goodluck Jonathan under pressure to show progress in reducing corruption in a country that is consistently ranked as one of the world’s most graft-ridden.

Babafemi’s agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, was set up to tackle corruption and has prosecuted a number of high-profile, and sometimes controversial, cases.

After the Nigerian charges were filed, the prosecutor issued a statement saying the move was in line with the country’s commitment to "bring to justice all the participants in the criminal enterprise associated with the bribe for contract arrangement …

"Names, positions, office or geography would have no bearing or effect whatsoever on the decisions of the prosecution whatsoever as it relates to the prosecution of this matter," it said.

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