John Nichols writes about politics for The Nation magazine as its Washington correspondent.
What's the going rate for getting a former vice president off the hook in a major criminal case that involves charges of government corruption and raises concerns about violent wrongdoing and even murder?
If you're Dick Cheney, it's roughly $250 million.
That's the amount that Halliburton and its former subsidiary KBR Inc. are reported, by Nigerian officials and international observers, to have paid to get the government of the African country to drop bribery charges against the former corporate CEO and other Halliburton employees and operatives.
Top Nigerian lawyers and newspapers are objecting, and rightly so.
The charges against Cheney and his colleagues go far beyond the usual corporate corruption.
I've been following them for the better part of a decade.
In the biography I wrote about then-Vice President Richard B. Cheney - Dick: The Man Who Is President, published in 2004 by New Press - I devoted a good deal of space to the former Halliburton CEO's business engagements in Nigeria.
The section on the dirty dealings in that country by Halliburton during the time when Cheney served as that company's CEO in the 1990s, argued that: "One of the ugliest stories of Halliburton's globe-trotting comes out of Nigeria, the oil-and-gas rich West African country where the brutal dictatorship of Sani Abacha garnered a good deal of attention for jailing and executing environmentalists-including playwright Ken Saro-Wiwa-who were displeased by its willingness to allow the government's international oil industry partners to dislocate communities and despoil vast stretches of the countryside. Abacha looked like someone with whom Halliburton could do business. The price that Halliburton and its partners in an international consortium had to pay was high-they are alleged to have paid a $180 million bribe to the Abacha government-but it was a pittance compared with the potential payout. The liquefied natural gas plant they planned to build was valued at as much as $6 billion. Things went swimmingly until the Abacha dictatorship began to crumble and details of its dealings with companies such as Halliburton leaked out."
By early 2004, in the midst of Cheney's tenure as the most powerful vice president in American history, French investigators were talking about calling the former CEO to testify regarding his alleged awareness of wrongdoing in Nigeria.
Around the same time, the new government of Nigeria opened an inquiry.
Things move slowly when it comes to corporate crime investigations.
But the Nigerian inquiry finally reached a critical stage this year-for Cheney and for the global quest for corporate accountability.
"We are filing charges against Cheney," Femi Babafemi, a spokesperson for Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), announced this fall.
Godwin Obla, prosecuting counsel for the commission, announced in late November that Nigerian officials would bring significant charges against Cheney and officials from five foreign companies (including Halliburton) in relation to the bribery scandal.
Business Week, which reported that: "An arrest warrant for Cheney 'will be issued and transmitted through Interpol," the world's biggest international police organization..."
That was no idle threat.
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