09 July 2009

'Dollar Bill' Jefferson and the Case of the Cold Cash

Government exhibit 20-45C. This photo was presented July 8, 2009, as court evidence in the trial of Rep. William Jefferson, D-La. It was provided by the U.S. Attorney's office and shows an FBI agent holding contents seized on Aug. 3, 2005 from Jefferson's freezer. Photo from U.S. Atty's Office / AP.

The prosecution of William Jefferson:
More to this story than meets the ice?
The elaborate sting to get Jefferson and the unprecedented decision to raid his office and create an uproar in Congress are puzzling unless we assume something bigger was involved than his peddling influence and passing bribes to African leaders.
By Sherman DeBrosse / The Rag Blog / July 9, 2009

The current proceedings against former Representative William Jefferson of New Orleans remind us that his was not the only case involving alleged bribery of Nigerian officials. There was another case that involved a great deal more money that never received much scrutiny. Comparing the cases might be instructive.

Everyone knows about the $90,000 found in William Jefferson’s freezer. It was the source of endless jokes as well as many claims that he was pocketing all that money. One could more easily imagine a scenario in which he might have taken $10,000 as a commission and intended to use the $90,000 to influence Nigerian officials on behalf of a northern Virginia investor and a small software company in Kentucky. He was videotaped receiving a briefcase full of marked hundred dollar bills. In 2005, the Congressman told an undercover FBI agent that the Nigerian Vice President Atiku Abubakar would help the firm acquire a communications contract.

It is also known that the French government has been looking into charges that M.W. Kellogg of the UK funneled between $132 and $180 million in kickbacks to Nigerian government officials in return for a $2 billion contract to build facilities to liquefy gas. Eventually, the liquefacation facilities there will involve $6 billion in construction. The UK firm was owned by Halliburton, which was led by Richard Cheney when the contracts were let. Le Figaro reported on December 20, 2003, that the French considered indicting Cheney.

The charge under French law would be wasting the assets of a corporation. They were also investigating Technip, a French firm. Albert Stanley, whom Cheney made head of M.W. Kellogg-UK, admitted that money was passed through a London lawyer who worked for Kellogg and was also financial advisor to the late Nigerian dictator, General Sami Abacha.

Even if Cheney and Halliburton did not bribe the bloody Abacha regime, they had many dealings with those thugs. Some of us recall how reports of ties to this regime helped unseat Senator Carol Moseley-Braun.

Given what was occurring in France, the SEC opened a pro-forma investigation that seems to have gone nowhere. Britain’s export credit agency barely gave the matter a cursory examination. Now, the SEC is looking into claims that Siemens, the German engineering firm, has been bribing Atiku Abubakar. Jefferson’s attorneys have been seeking testimony from Abubakar, but the SEC investigation will probably prevent his cooperation. The company reported having a bribery budget in excess of $40 million.

The French findings and the $180 million must have been considered small potatoes because our government did little to look into the doings of the British Halliburton subsidiary. But there was an elaborate sting operation, complete with miles of tape and film footage, to nail a black Congressman from New Orleans who was accused of funneling bribery money to Nigeria. There were reports that “Dollar Bill” had handled an additional $400,000 in bribe money for governments in West Africa.

In 2006, 19 heavily armed FBI agents raided the offices of Congressman William Jefferson on Capitol Hill. This was the first search of a Congressional office in history; they were disregarding a lot of history and constitutional law to get at something

There is a sharp contrast between the full court press launched against Jefferson and the neglect of the Halliburton/Nigerian LNG case. The federal authorities showed very little interest in the latter. There was some coverage in the press but no one has pulled the whole story together. Now, there is a new administration in Washington and little is being done about this case

The prosecution of Jefferson proceeds and is even attended by unusual moves on the part of the prosecution to force a guilty plea. This may be because their star witness seems to be refusing to testify. However, there are many hours of tape between them that will probably be played. The defense is requesting the right to play some tapes that the prosecution declined to use.

There has been speculation that the two Nigerian cases might be connected, or that the Jefferson case is tied to bribes U.S. oil companies sent to Nigerian politicians. The theory is that Jefferson kept information on the oil deals, or perhaps Halliburton’s deal with Nigeria, in his Congressional office as insurance in his own case. Certainly, he was well enough connected to obtain that information, and the Harvard-educated lawyer was smart enough to use it. He knew for some time that he was under investigation, so he had every reason to put evidence that incriminated him into the shredder. On the other hand, there was every reason to keep information that could be used as bargaining chips.

If Mr. Jefferson is indeed guilty as charged, he should be prosecuted. But it is still troubling that so little effort was expended to look into Halliburton’s possible involvement in the bribery of Nigerian officials. The elaborate sting to get Jefferson and the unprecedented decision to raid his office and create an uproar in Congress are puzzling unless we assume something bigger was involved than his peddling influence and passing bribes to African leaders.

[Sherman DeBrosse, the pseudonym for a retired history professor, is a regular contributor to The Rag Blog and also blogs at Sherm Says and on DailyKos.]

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