LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — Nigeria's anti-corruption agency on Tuesday charged former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney over a bribery scheme involving oil services firm Halliburton Co. during the time he served as its top executive, a spokesman said.
The charges stem from a case involving as much as $180 million allegedly paid in bribes to Nigerian officials, said Femi Babafemi, a spokesman for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
Halliburton and other firms allegedly paid the bribes to win a contract to build a $6 billion liquefied natural gas plant in Nigeria's oil-rich southern delta, he said.
Terrence O'Donnell, a lawyer representing Cheney, denied the allegations.
"The Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission investigated that joint venture extensively and found no suggestion of any impropriety by Dick Cheney in his role of CEO of Halliburton," O'Donnell said in a statement sent to The Associated Press. "Any suggestion of misconduct on his part, made now, years later, is entirely baseless."
The Halliburton case involves its former subsidiary KBR, a major engineering and construction services firm based in Houston. In February 2009, KBR Inc. pleaded guilty in U.S. federal court to authorizing and paying bribes from 1995 to 2004 for the plant contracts in Nigeria.
KBR, which split from Halliburton in 2007, agreed to pay more than $400 million in fines in the plea deal.
Halliburton spokeswoman Tara Mullee Agard said the company had not seen the new charges Tuesday, but insisted the company had nothing to do with the project.
Babafemi said Halliburton, its Nigerian subsidiary, Halliburton CEO David J. Lesar, former KBR CEO Albert "Jack" Stanley and current KBR CEO William Utt all face similar charges in the case. The spokesman said each charge in the 16-count indictment carried a sentence of as much as three years in prison.
Heather L. Browne, a KBR spokeswoman, said in a statement that Utt joined the firm in 2006, two years after prosecutors say the bribery case concluded.
"The actions of the Nigerian government suggest that its officials are wildly and wrongly asserting blame in this matter," Browne's statement read. "KBR will continue to vigorously defend itself and its executives, if necessary, in this matter."
Stanley pleaded guilty in 2008 to federal bribery charges in the U.S. for his role in the scheme. He is scheduled to be sentenced in federal court on Jan. 19.
Nigeria, a major oil supplier to the U.S., long has been considered by analysts and watchdog groups as having one of the world's most corrupt governments. Federal prosecutors in the U.S. have filed a series of charges over the construction of the Bonny Island liquefied natural gas plant under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. That law makes it unlawful for companies doing work in the U.S. to bribe foreign government officials or company executives to secure or retain business.
Cheney resigned as Halliburton's CEO in 2000 to run as former President George W. Bush's vice president. Babafemi declined to comment when asked how likely it was that Cheney would be extradited to Nigeria over the charges.
"We are following the laws of the land. We want to follow the laws and see where it will go," the spokesman said. "We're very convinced by the time the trial commences, we'd make application for appropriate court orders to be issued."
There could be political calculations at play in the new charges. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan faces a coming primary election in the nation's ruling party against former Vice President Atiku Abubakar.
Critics have tried to connect Abubakar to this bribery case in the past and the charges come as the election looms. Abubakar has denied any involvement.