INVESTIGATION: Files Open New Window on $182-Million Halliburton Bribery Scandal in Nigeria

British lawyer Jeffrey Tesler. Photo: Getty / AFP

By Will Fitzgibbon

“There is no day when I do not regret my weakness of character,” said a contrite British lawyer in a Houston courtroom. “I allowed myself to accept standards of behavior in a business culture which can never be justified. I accepted the system of corruption that existed in Nigeria. I turned a blind eye to what was happening, and I am guilty of the offenses charged.”

The lawyer, Jeffrey Tesler, was speaking at the end of his 2012 sentencing hearing after pleading guilty to U.S. corruption charges for his role in what became known as the Halliburton Bribery Scandal. A network of secretive banks and offshore tax havens was used to funnel $182 million in bribes to Nigerian officials in exchange for $6 billion in engineering and construction work for an international consortium of companies that included a then Halliburton subsidiary. In 2010 Nigeria indicted former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, who was CEO of Halliburton before he was elected, only to later clear him when Halliburton worked out a $35 million settlement.

Leaked records from HSBC, a huge global bank based in London, reveal new details about the bank’s role as a conduit for the bribes — and new details about how Tesler operated. The files, obtained by the French newspaper Le Monde and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, show ties between Tesler and high-ranking Nigerians not previously named publicly in connection with the scandal, raising the possibility of renewed questions about Nigeria’s handling of the affair.

Bonny Island, Nigeria LNG
Nigeria LNG, Bonny Island. Photo: Chike Roland ORAEKWUGHA /Flickr

The Halliburton Bribery Scandal dates to 1994 when the Nigerian government launched ambitious plans to build the Bonny Island Natural Liquefied Gas Project.

Tesler was then, in his own words, “a simple lawyer” from North London. He grew from advising U.K.-based Nigerians on property deals to relishing his relationships with successive Nigerian military and civilian governments.

Tesler began planning the bribe payments in 1994 and transferred small amounts of money through Switzerland in July 1996. But by 2003, his role had escalated.

In one brazen episode in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, Tesler directed the drop-off of a travel bag stuffed with $1 million in $100 bills in the foyer of a luxury hotel where the per-night cost of a suite can exceed the nation’s average annual income of $3,000. It was one of at least 20 money transfers that Tesler made or directed. The cash was destined for Nigeria’s ruling party via the state-owned oil and gas company, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), according to an official Nigerian report.

Months later, in April 2003, the governing party scored an overwhelming victory in an election marred by vote rigging, fraud and violence that killed at least 100 people.

Switzerland’s famous bank secrecy laws encouraged Tesler to use the country as base for moving bribe money. And HSBC Private Bank (Suisse), with offices near luxury hotels in Geneva and Zurich, was his preferred bank. When U.S. authorities seized 12 of Tesler’s Swiss accounts in 2013, five were with HSBC — more than any other bank.

The files obtained by Le Monde and ICIJ show that nine people, including members of the Tesler family and Nigerian nationals, held a variety of roles with accounts  at HSBC Private Bank (Suisse) between 1990 and 2003 — months before the completion of the gas plant. Nine of the 12 accounts instructed HSBC to keep all correspondence under lock and key in a bank safe.

Despite Tesler being under investigation since 2003, HSBC continued to offer advice, services and cash withdrawals to Tesler and his family, whose accounts with the bank totaled tens of millions of dollars at one point in 2006/2007. HSBC advised the family even though its individual files for Tesler and those close to him include references to “criminal cases” and “the Tesler affair.”

Tesler’s wife, Judy, is named in the files as a beneficial owner and a controlling client of two accounts, one of which was opened in 1999 and at one point in 2006 or 2007 held $35.3 million. The files do not specify her role in relation to a third account. As he did with his wife, Tesler also transferred bribe money into accounts in the names of his daughters, according to U.S. and French prosecutors. One daughter, Laura, then a twenty something  psychology student, according to the leaked files,  became a millionaire — at least on paper — through her beneficial ownership of an account under the name of a Panamanian company that held almost $4 million.

Judy Tesler and her daughters were not charged.

On Jan. 14, 2005 — 15 months after Tesler was first identified during a French corruption investigation — Judy Tesler’s agent instructed HSBC to buy and sell investments worth $380,000. This account was frozen due to ongoing criminal investigations, but HSBC staff waived the sale through. Months later, bank staff met with one of the beneficial owners in London, possibly Judy Tesler, to “review portfolios.”

In April 2005, HSBC Private Bank (Suisse) recorded a visit from “J.T.,” likely to have been Jeffrey Tesler, who collected mail and withdrew more than $10,000 in cash from yet another account.

“If a bank has reason to believe that funds are in any way related to criminal activity, then any transfers in and out of the account should be reported,” Jimmy Gurulé, a professor at Notre Dame University and a former assistant U.S. attorney, said in an interview with ICIJ.

“Banks should not permit their clients to benefit from dirty money,” Gurulé said, adding that the fact the account was later seized by authorities “raises some red flags over why the bank concluded the account wasn’t linked to criminal activity and authorized the sale.”

In response to ICIJ’s questions, an HSBC spokesman said the bank does not comment on specific clients.

“In terms of the personalities and the amount of money involved it is probably the biggest scandal in Nigeria’s history.”

The leaked files reveal that Tesler had financial ties to two former Nigerian officials: now-retired Major General Chris Garuba, chief of staff to former Nigerian president Abdulsalami Abubakar who himself allegedly received bribes as president; and Andrew Agom, a senior government official who was killed in an attack on a motorcade. Bank staff also responded to a request from Agom’s widow to unfreeze her husband’s account, whose post was sent to Tesler’s North London law firm and which was marked as subject to criminal investigations into Tesler. The files do not indicate whether or not the account was ultimately unfrozen.

Garuba, a former governor of Northeastern Bauchi state, is now chairman of Obekpa Petroleum, a Nigerian oil company. Before his death, Agom was a board member of the People’s Democratic Party, which controlled the government when this affair unfolded.

Agom was the beneficial owner of an HSBC account linked to a Gibraltar-based company, Hemisphere Services Limited, which held a maximum amount of $797,377 at one point in 2006 or 2007. Africa Confidential magazine previously named a company named Hemisphere Services (Nigeria) as a “recipient of largesse” from Tesler after viewing documents disclosed to the magazine during a French corruption investigation. Agom’s account was opened in 1991, on the same day that an account was opened in the name of former Nigerian Air Force Chief, Abdullahi Dominic Bello. A Nigerian government investigator has previously described Swiss accounts held by Bello as a conduit for “slush funds”. The investigator did not specifically mention HSBC.

A spokesman for Bello told ICIJ that the account, which was used for business purposes and opened by Tesler when he was Bello’s lawyer, had never been used for slush funds or bribes. “At no point has Mr. Bello been charged to any court over the bribery scandal,” said the spokesman, adding that, “it must be a coincidence that Mr. Agom and [Bello’s company] opened an account the same day.”

The HSBC files identify Chris Garuba and his wife Rita as HSBC clients; their names are listed along with Tesler’s in an account named Bridlington Enterprises Limited, for which Tesler acted as an attorney. The files show that the account was opened the year before Tesler sent his first bribe payment to Switzerland, although the files do not show that Tesler transferred money into the Bridlington account, which held as much as $367,547 in 2006 or 2007.

Chris and Rita Garuba did not respond to ICIJ’s requests for comment.

Tesler was sentenced to 21 months in prison and he forfeited $149 million from his Swiss accounts to the U.S. government for serving as the go-between for bribes paid to secure contracts for KBR, the former Halliburton subsidiary, and the other consortium members, the Japanese firm JGC Corporation, Paris-based Technip, as well as Italy’s ENI S.p.A. and its Dutch subsidiary Snamprogetti Netherlands B.V. The forfeited money is still to be paid.

Between 2009 and 2011, the consortium members paid penalties totaling more than $1.5 billion for their role in the bribery scheme. Two KBR officials who had worked with Tesler, Wojciech Chodan and Albert (Jack) Stanley, KBR’s former chairman and CEO, were sentenced to one year of probation and 30 months in prison, respectively.

Dick Cheney
Dick Cheney.

Cheney had been chairman and chief executive of Halliburton, the parent company of KBR, for five years — from 1995 to 2000 — before becoming U.S. vice-president in 2001.

Cheney’s lawyer has asserted repeatedly that his client was not involved. “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,” attorney Terrence O’Donnell wrote in a 2010 statement to the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, Tesler, now 66, has served his sentence and returned to England, where he told authorities he would “spend the last few years, which God may graciously grant me, to seek forgiveness.”

Jeffrey Tesler did not respond to ICIJ’s requests for comment.

In Nigeria, anti-corruption campaigners continue to call on authorities to identify and prosecuteNigerian citizens involved in the scandal. While never publicly released, a 2010 Nigerian government document reportedly included three Nigerian presidents, a vice-president, a minister, intelligence chiefs and corporate titans in a list of bribery beneficiaries. The report did not name Garuba or Agom.

“In terms of the personalities and the amount of money involved it is probably the biggest scandal in Nigeria’s history,” Dauda Garuba, Nigeria coordinator at the Natural Resource Governance Institute, said in an interview with ICIJ. (Dauda Garuba has no connection to the Garuba family in HSBC’s files.)

“But although we’ve seen the indictment and conviction of foreign companies and their top executives in Europe and America,” Garuba said, “Nigeria’s own government has not taken action in the very country in which the corruption took place.”


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  • Naso

    AS PRESIDENT JONATHAN WAS SAYING………

    “Some people call themselves statesmen but they are NOT statesmen.
    They are just ordinary politicians. For you to be a statesman it is not
    because you have occupied a big office before but the question is:
    <i.what are you bringing to bear?

    Are you building this country or are you a part of the people
    who tell lies to destroy this country, to create enmity and make
    people who ordinarily would have been living together, fight
    themselves? Are you planning to set the country ablaze
    because you did not get that particular thing you want?

    Hiding under some big names and creating a lot of problems
    in this country, making provocative statements in this country –
    statements that will set this country ablaze – and you tell me
    you are a senior citizen. You are NOT a senior citizen;
    you can never be. You are an ordinary motor park tout.”

    ………..President Goodluck Jonathan

    (January 7th, 2014)

    • Denis_NG

      Jonathan himself is guilty of everything he said here, therefore, by inference, Jonathan is also an ordinary motor park tout!!

  • Naso

    AS PRESIDENT JONATHAN WAS SAYING………

    “Some people call themselves statesmen but they are NOT statesmen.
    They are just ordinary politicians. For you to be a statesman it is not
    because you have occupied a big office before but the question is:
    what are you bringing to bear?

    Are you building this country or are you a part of the people
    who tell lies to destroy this country, to create enmity and make
    people who ordinarily would have been living together, fight
    themselves? Are you planning to set the country ablaze
    because you did not get that particular thing you want?

    Hiding under some big names and creating a lot of problems
    in this country, making provocative statements in this country –
    statements that will set this country ablaze – and you tell me
    you are a senior citizen. You are NOT a senior citizen;
    you can never be. You are an ordinary motor park tout.”

    ………..President Goodluck Jonathan

    (January 7th, 2014)

    • Raymond

      “And now the conclusion seems to be inescapable in Nigeria
      that what we have as leaders in politics, business, and in the
      civil service, are common thieves in high places. The rot is so
      deep that stealing is now in the family system, in the religious system;
      even in friendly and social clubs. Everybody is looking for somebody
      else to steal from.

      The day our leaders decide they don’t need James Ibori’s
      kind of wealth or Cecilia Ibru’s kind of property acquisition,
      that a good name is better than material acquisition;
      and that leadership at the end of the day, is about people
      and leaving a place better than you met it, is the day Nigeria
      will begin a positive walk into sanity and propriety.
      Until then, Nigeria is just a nation of common thieves.”

      …….………..Muyiwa Adetiba

      (Pioneer Editor, Vanguard Newspaper)

      [June 15, 2013]

    • Scatter

      What is ‘Dr’ Dumbo Dumbo “bringing to bear”? This fake ogogoro PHD is a huge joke. The “semi-literate jackboot” Buhari, who Dumbo Dumbo is hounding with three proxy court cases over his alleged non-existent WASC, speaks and reasons far, far better!

  • Rommel

    Yes biggest scandal in Nigeria before the government of Jonathan Ebele Goodluck came and wiped off the word corruption from Nigeria’s lexicon,he evidently defined the ability to make money while in public service as an advantage of serving people publicly and for this reason,financial scandals are now in the billions of dollars

    • Kitunde

      Just ‘mere stealing’ no big deal.

  • Rotimi Lawanson

    Wait till you hear t he one of Rotimi Amaechi, Fashola the saint and Tinubu.

    • zacchaeus Akinleye

      Face the issues. This case is about the Halliburton scandal, not some beer-parlor talk.

  • Lemmuel Odjay

    Until Nigerians rise up as one and take their country by the scruff from these crafty knaves in our midst, our collective identity would remain suspect before the rest of the world; our commonwealth plundered without let. Now the die is cast and soon, we are going to rid ourselves of this plague. They may run, but there is no more hiding place.

  • Obiora Lawrence Okechukwu

    this is exactly one of the reasons why pdp n jonathan will rather let nigeria go up in flames rather than let buhari run n possibly win the elaections. there is not enough space in nigerian prisons to accommodate them if buhari wins. thieves all

    • Colonel Mengistu(rtd)

      Are you suggesting that the likes of Obasanjo, Atiku, Adulsalami Abubakar be sentenced to prison terms for their role in the scandal? Who then will take the fall for Abacha who is already stone-cold dead?Be careful what you wish. Interesting to note that this corruption scandal occurred way before GEJ came on board and some of you unrepentant idiots( you being a prime example!!) pin the logo of corruption on such a clean man. You are all going to burn in perpetual hell. I do not wish people like you good at all. Pestilent fools!!!!

      • emeka momegha

        and yet what has GEJ done about it.? everyone knows this didnt happen in GEJ’s time but if a corrupt case that has been investigated for u and brought to the knowledge of everyone the people involve, we expected the president to act on it by showing everyone that corruption is not a smiling case in nigeria..

        • MrFesh+Ifebuche+Paschal

          You love this president a lot.
          You want him to do everything. Nice.

          • Colonel Mariama(rtd)

            Don’t mind the kid.All he knows how to do is cry his eye-balls out waiting for the president to do the job of the national assembly. Mind you that this is not a dictatorship or imperial presidency. Why don’t you ask the national assembly to act on the matter and then make recommendations for the president to act on? Some of you folks are useless ingrates.Ever wonder why Obasanjo is against GEJ? I tell you why: GEJ refuses to participate in his nasty evil brand of politics. If I was GEJ I’d bring Obasanjo under control by any means possible. After all he is only an ex-president. Mind you that Abacha dealt with Obasanjo mercilessly notwithstanding the latter’s status as a former HOS. It can be done this time round.
            WEBMASTER: YOU ARE NOTHING BUT A DAMNED BLEEDING HEART. JUST BECAUSE I REFUSE TO TOW THE OFFICIAL BUHARI LINE DOES NOT MAKE IT IMPERATIVE TO DELETE MY POSTS. I WILL DEAL WITH YOU RATHER MERCILESSLY.MARK MY WORDS CAREFULLY.

  • ODOFIN, Lagos

    This is one of the reasons we need Buhari to fix our damaged image…

    • kenny

      When you are tired of deceiving yourself come back and explain how Buhari is going to fix this damaged image, when he keeps running to these people for help and his campaign is being financed with stolen money.

      • ODOFIN, Lagos

        We will exchange note after the election…

    • Etomi

      So shallow!!!!

    • UYI111

      2.8 billion naira oil money is mising dem set up enquiry dem say money nor lose oh dem dabau everybody supervisor Obasanjo them say make im nor talki oh money nor los dem shout againg enquiring come close oh i nor finish the beat goes on and on till now ! All disreputs will face the music one day dont forget it was bokohari that was the man at the centre as minister of petroleum in that scandal and now certificate forger.

  • Fulani Nomad

    Musikilu Mojeed the author of this article, all this do gon turanchi (long English) would not help. Nor would it help this government that do not understand the difference between corruption and stealing.
    Your article will only increase the number of death from hypertension among good Nigerians because things aren’t going right in their country.

    • UYI111

      Thanks to GEJ for your armajiri school you can now write can’t u mr normad?
      Buhari is advise to enroll before it”s too late too for memory enhancement !!!!

  • Gideon Orkar

    Trust Premium Terrorists. They conveniently hid or omitted the principal players like Obasanjo and Atiku. the former is the current navigator of APC and the latter ran for its Presidency and is still an active member.

    You guys should bow your heads in shame!

    • MrFesh+Ifebuche+Paschal

      Of course. Classical Times. Lies I mean.

    • TrueNja

      Tell Jonathan to summon courage and bring them to justice.

  • Colonel Mariama

    Jerks!

  • Goodguy

    Well I believe Jonathan will summon courage and bring Obasanjo, Atiku and Abdulsalami abubakar to face justice for their bribery scam.

    • Scatter

      I dey laugh … his own stolen US$20bn nko? The biggest public accounting scandal in world history! Stop dreaming, amigo.

      • tyson

        again have u finsihed investigating buhari and his 2.8b which Fela turned into a heat record—————–

        • Scatter

          Inquiry or no inquiry, fake ogogoro Dr Dumbo Dumbo will soon go down gbam! Yeye dey smell but dey turn accusing finger on someone wey better pass.

    • tyson

      Have u finished prosecuting Buhari over his certificate scandal—What about Sanusi-? Were u able to charge him to court—?—-the only person that can be prosecuted for an alleged corruption—case is Jonathan-the Ijaw man-Not Obj–Abdulsalam– Atiku or Buhari–Are Nigerians not doing all to bury that of match booooooooooooohari—–already some have issued a no case submission to the electorates–with regards to his sabinkate scandal–Fulanis do not go to jail in Nigeria–only those from the SS do–

    • UYI111

      Must GEJ be the prosecutor EFCC/ICPC and Judge ,driver and conductor all at the same time?

    • TrueNja

      Jonathan is a chicken. He has no courage to bring them to justice b’cos he lives in a glass house and he can’t throw stone.

  • MrFesh+Ifebuche+Paschal

    And they will blame it on Jonathan. Again.
    Let the games begin.

  • akpos1

    I am compelled to comment on this story……………… ..
    I can now see why Sir Dokubo, General Ekpemoupolo, Ateke Tom etc took their decision to confront. May God bless the work of their hands and legs. May they live long to enjoy the fruit of their labour. May they bequeath their noble training & experience adequately to those coming behind them.

    To start with, Obama should return the $149m recovered from the full called Tesler back to the Niger Delta/South South Republic without delay.

    It is clear once again, why the Yorubas and Hausas always align to steal the wealth of the Niger Delta. They are the inventors of corruption and have governed for 51 years out of our about 55yrs since the Queen was confined to Buckingham palace. These two tribes, when in power, steal with reckless abandon. It all began from ITT fraud case. It explains why these two nations in continent Nigeria are fighting very hard in the dirtiest of fashions, to ensure they get power back. But they will be surprised at what they will get.

    Just imagine the monies mentioned in this report? And my people can’t even drink from their rivers anymore. Farm produce become cancerous due to pollution and some scallywag Aboki from oil-less Bauchi is raking in millions of Dollars. Senator Ita Enang told us in 2013 that 97% of the oil blocks are in the hands of the North & West. He gave facts & figures. Who would accept this?

    Time for Niger Delta and by extension, the East which now has crude oil in excess, to hit the streets and DEMAND explanations and thereafter opt for SECESSION. This is where we are inevitably heading. The CRIMINAL INJUSTICE lasted too long & any attempt at its perpetuity will be resisted disproportionately by all means bcos ALL of these thieves including OBJ are all in APC with today. The tolerance of the Niger Delta people has been stretched beyond limit. I hope Chiefs Boyloaf, Dokubo etc have been briefed about this new revelation.m

    • Ole

      @Oleku,
      ‘akpos1’ and ‘eclub’ have been copyrighted..You must stop infringing these copyrights. You hear me?

  • warry

    Now Obj and Atiku under whose watch this bribery scandal took place are now helping. Buhari to fight corruption? And you are recycling this story as if it is under GEJ. Please we should stop manipulation,deceit,lies and hypocrisy.

  • Anonymous

    TESLER (British)
    “ …Tesler was sentenced to 21 months in prison and he forfeited $149 million from his Swiss accounts to the U.S. government for serving as the go-between for bribes paid to secure contracts for in Nigeria…Between 2009 and 2011, the consortium members paid penalties totaling more than $1.5 billion for their role in the bribery scheme…”

    IBORI (Nigerian)
    “..On 27 February, accused of stealing US$250 million from the Nigerian purse, on April 17, 2012, Ibori was sentenced to 13 years by Southwark Crown Court for his crimes…”

    Why did a Briton who stole, embezzled and laundered over $1.5 billion of the Niger Delta’s money (and even had $149 million cash in his account) get only 1yr in jail and a Nigerian sentenced to 13yrs for allegedly stealing only $250 million? Why is the British govt not sending Tesler to jail? Are the rules different for different skin colours? But some Nigerians who can’t see beyond their nostrils applaud UK & US for “efficient & Working” legal systems. Stand before the families of victims of US police officers’ bullets and then utter such nonsensical statement.

    • utolason

      Well, read the article carefully. Tesler did not steal or embezzled anyone’s money. He confessed his involvement as a middleman in money laundering and asked for forgiveness. Under Nigeria, UK or US legal system, the Judge may show leniency in sentencing where the offender admit his offence, show remorse and plead for leniency.

  • Moses Musa

    Why are the nigerian collaborators and beneficiaries not tried and jailed, particularly Abdulsalam who is parading himself today as a statesman tainted with blood money and the greatest beneficiary the ruling PDP.

    • BankyMons

      Exactly my thought!

  • Wähala

    If this fraud had occurred between 2011 and 2015 would it have been possible for Premium times not to mention the sitting president’s name?

    • Es3

      Premium Times are afraid to mention Obasanjo and Atiku names on this report even when they know the truth?!

      Anyway, they would have quoted Jonathan FOI Act as their strength today…which is a big plus to Jonathan’s long list of freedoms!

  • Derek

    This is why Nigerians need to vote out PDP so that many of this hidden corrupt practices can be expose. This evil party has stall Nigeria for a long time and they will keep covering their crimes as long as they remain in power! Now i know why some of our old leaders can’t come out clean in publicly to speak against this present evil leadership of Jonathan because they are all dirty! God pls help Nigeria.

  • Shehu Monguno

    The Three former presidents – General Sani Abacha, General Abdulsalam Abubakar and Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. The former Vice President is Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. Chief Obasanjo seems to have an affinity for oil money. First it was the US$2.8BILLION that disappeared under him and General Buhari now it is the Halliburton bribe scandal. I am surprised that Chief Obasanjo did not include how he received his share of Halliburton bribe in his new book.

    • Es3

      Is it not dumbfounding as well as it is interesting that the same Obasanjo is claiming ‘sainthood’ around Nigeria and the world while sitting pretty to accuse Jonathan that is yet to be linked directly and personally (the Obasanjo, Atiku and others have been, severally) to any of those oil corruption cases?!!!

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  • John L. Lee

    The ONLY way to stop these scumbags is with a bullet. How long are American soldiers lives going to be spent in the name of profit. In my OPINION they need to be exterminated the hard way! Do unto others as they would do unto you, only do it first!