Nigeria Investigates Alleged Halliburton Bribes

Nigeria has ordered an investigation into allegations that a subsidiary of Halliburton Co. paid $180 million in bribes to win a natural gas project contract in the West African nation.

The U.S. Justice Department and a French magistrate already are probing the case. U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney was head of Halliburton at the time.

President Olusegun Obasanjo "is aware of the report and has therefore ordered a high-level investigation into the allegations," presidential spokeswoman Remi Oyo said. "The investigations have already begun and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is the arrowhead of the probe."

Obasanjo created the commission with the mandate of fighting fraud schemes and money-laundering in the corruption-plagued country.

The $4 billion Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas Plant was built in the 1990s by a consortium that included Kellogg, Brown & Root, a unit of Houston-based Halliburton. Justice Department officials have said the department asked Halliburton to voluntarily provide documents related to the allegations. Those records, they said, could determine whether a full investigation is launched. Halliburton has complied, the officials said.

Halliburton, already under fire for its handling of contracts related to the war in Iraq, disclosed the request in a Jan. 21 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. According to the filing, the allegations involve a joint venture of which KBR was a 25 percent owner. The other partners were Technip SA of France, ENI SpA of Italy and Japan Gasoline Corp.

"Halliburton has engaged outside counsel to investigate any allegations and is cooperating with the government's inquiries," the company said in the filing. "If illegal payments were made, this matter could have a material adverse effect on our business and the results of operations."