Nigeria Fraud Investigation

LAGOS, June 18 (Reuters) – Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has ordered an investigation into alleged fraud by a local unit of U.S. oil services firm Halliburton Co (nyse: HAL – news – people), his spokeswoman said on Wednesday.

Spokeswoman Remi Oyo told Reuters that the order was given on Monday, and was part of a wider anti-corruption drive by Obasanjo, who was re-elected for a second term in April.

The move follows disclosures by Houston-based Halliburton to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) last month that it may owe up to $5 million in taxes to Nigeria, the world’s eighth largest oil exporter.

The world’s second biggest oil services company also disclosed that it paid $2.4 million to an entity owned by a Nigerian national in order to get favourable tax treatment in the West African country.

Halliburton, once run by U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney, admitted at the time that the payments “clearly violated” its code of conduct. It said it was cooperating with the SEC in reviewing the situation, and that several employees had already been fired in connection with the affair.

“The president has ordered an investigation into it,” said Oyo. “It’s Halliburton itself that owned up to the fact that they had given some money to an official in exchange for favourable tax treatment. So, the president would like to know who this official was and what processes he took.”

She said the investigation would be carried out by the police and other security agencies, and could eventually be brought before the country’s anti-corruption commission.

“He (Obasanjo) said only on Sunday that all those who are contributing to bleeding the Nigerian economy will be brought to book, and this is what this is about,” Oyo said. “Anyone who acts against the interest of Nigeria cannot be seen to be a friend of Nigeria.”

Copyright 2003, Reuters News Service

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