Written by MICHAEL GRACZYK (AP)
A British lawyer accused of helping a former Halliburton Co. subsidiary illegally bribe Nigerian officials to win more than $6 billion in construction contracts pleaded guilty Friday to federal charges and was ordered to forfeit nearly $150 million.
Jeffrey Tesler, 62, was charged with conspiracy and violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which among other things prohibits payments to foreign government officials to help obtain business. Tesler faces up to five years in prison on each count and up to $250,000 in fines when sentenced June 22. Nine other counts were dismissed under the plea deal.
U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison released Tesler, a dual citizen of Britain and Israel, on $50,000 bond and ordered him to stay in Houston until his sentencing.
Tesler was arrested in London in February 2009, accused of helping steer bribe money from Houston-based Kellogg, Brown & Root LLC to Nigerian government officials to win more than $6 billion in contracts for liquefied natural gas facilities.
The bribery occurred for about 10 years, through 2004, and Tesler was involved in at least four construction contracts, Assistant U.S. Attorney William Stuckwisch said.
“Mr. Tesler knew it was unlawful for him to bribe foreign officials,” Stuckwisch told Ellison during Friday’s hearing.
Tesler’s attorneys unsuccessfully argued that their client shouldn’t be extradited because the crimes didn’t have a substantial link to the U.S. and the passage of time might prevent a fair trial. The British High Court in January said Tesler could be sent to the U.S.
“You seem an unlikely person to be here,” Ellison told Tesler, who stood before the judge Friday wearing olive green jail clothing and in handcuffs and leg chains.
“I agree with that assessment,” Tesler replied.
When Ellison said he assumed Tesler was engaged in the bribery “because everybody was doing it,” Tesler responded: “I think that’s a fair comment.”
Tesler’s lawyer, Bradley Simon, declined to comment on why his client had taken the plea deal.
Tesler, who surrendered his passport, could face a reduced sentence depending on his continued cooperation with authorities, prosecutors said.
Another British man indicted with Tesler, Wojciech Chodan, pleaded guilty in December to one count of conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. His sentencing is set for April 27.
The charges against the pair were part of a U.S. investigation of KBR Inc.’s practices in Nigeria.
In February 2009, KBR pleaded guilty in Houston federal court to violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by authorizing and paying bribes from 1995 to 2004 for contracts to build liquefied natural gas facilities on Bonny Island, Nigeria.
The company agreed to pay more than $400 million in fines. A major engineering and construction services company with operations around the world, KBR split from Halliburton in 2007.
KBR’s former chief executive, Albert “Jack” Stanley, pleaded guilty in September 2008 for his role in the bribery scheme and is scheduled to be sentenced on May 5.
In December, Nigeria’s anti-corruption agency charged current and former KBR and Halliburton executives, including former Vice President Dick Cheney, who at one time led Halliburton, in the bribery scheme. But the charges were dropped a few weeks later after Halliburton agreed to pay a $35 million settlement.
The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, passed in 1977, prohibits payments to foreign government officials to assist in obtaining or retaining business or to secure an advantage to getting the business. Its anti-bribery provisions were broadened in 1998, to apply to foreign firms and persons who directly or through agents allow corrupt payments to take place.