Halliburton Probed for Illegal Payments

HOUSTON -- Halliburton, the big oil-services company, sought to distance itself Sunday from a report that investigators in France were close to completing an inquiry into payments on a project in Nigeria that might have enriched a former executive.

Investigators in the United States, France and Nigeria have been examining accusations that KBR -- the Halliburton engineering and construction unit that was formerly called Kellogg, Brown & Root -- was involved in making $180 million in illegal payments in the 1990s to win a contract to build a natural gas complex in Nigeria.

Halliburton disclosed Friday that the Securities and Exchange Commission had begun a formal investigation into the payments.

French investigators are reported to have uncovered evidence showing that about $5 million of payments related to the Nigeria project were deposited into a Swiss bank account controlled by Albert Stanley, the former chairman of KBR.

The weekly Journal du Dimanche reported Sunday that investigative specialists in France had compared the payments to those in a scandal involving Elf, the French oil company at the center of bribery accusations associated with its ventures in Africa.

"We have not seen the documentation of such alleged accounts or transfers," Wendy Hall, a Halliburton spokeswoman, said Sunday. "Halliburton never authorized any such accounts nor any transfers to such accounts," she added, referring additional questions on the matter to Stanley and his lawyer, Lee Kaplan.

Stanley retired as KBR's chairman last year, but he still works as a consultant for the company and maintains an office at its headquarters in Houston. He did not return calls Sunday to his office and home.

Kaplan acknowledged that he was representing Stanley, but said in a telephone interview Sunday that he was "unable to make any comment at this time."

The Swiss account belonging to Stanley was reported earlier this month by the French newspaper Le Figaro to have received 3 percent to 5 percent of the $180 million of payments made to TSKJ, a consortium formed by KBR and three partners, Technip of France, Eni of Italy and the JGC Corporation of Japan, to carry out work on the Nigeria project.

In a statement Friday, Halliburton said company representatives had recently met with Reynaud van Ruymbeke, the French magistrate investigating the payments.

Halliburton also said it did not believe that it had violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibits U.S. companies from making bribes to win business abroad, though "there can be no assurance that government authorities would not conclude otherwise."

The payments in the Nigeria project are said to have been made from 1995 to 2002, but were initiated before the M.W. Kellogg Company, a unit of Dresser Industries, was absorbed into Halliburton through its acquisition of Dresser in 1998. Kellogg, which was part of the original TSKJ venture, was combined with Brown & Root to form KBR.