The head of Nigeria's anti-corruption body says the country has charged former vice president Dick Cheney with bribery to send a message: "Nobody is above the laws of the land."
Farida Mzamber Waziri, the executive chairman of Nigeria's Economic Financial Crimes Commission tells ABC News that the country will never end its culture of corruption and impunity until it starts prosecuting everyone guilty of breaking the law. Even if it means charging a former Vice President of the United States.
"It's not about profile," says Waziri. "It's about breaching the laws of the land."
The charges were filed Dec. 7 and center around Cheney's activities as the chief executive of Halliburton and its one-time subsidiary KBR before he became the vice president in 2001. Last year both companies pleaded guilty in a U.S. court to violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices act by paying more than $180 million in bribes to Nigerian officials prior to 2007. The companies were fined $579 million, the largest fine ever paid under the act.
EFCC spokesman Femi Babafemi told Reuters that an offer had been made by Halliburton to settle the case by paying fines totaling up to $250 million.
Though the Department of Justice and the Security and Exchange Commission conducted an extensive investigation, Nigerian officials have been conducting their own and want the case prosecuted in the country where the crimes were committed.
"Monies were taken to off shore accounts at the expense of the poor masses of Nigeria," says Waziri. "The monies meant for development projects are the ones that are carted away, so we are the victims."
Cheney's lawyer, Terrence O'Donnell issued a statement calling the charges "baseless." O'Donnell points to the fact that the U.S. investigation "found no suggestion of any impropriety by Dick Cheney in his role of CEO of Halliburton."
"Any suggestion of misconduct on his part, made now, years later, is entirely baseless," says O'Donnell.
Nigeria's EFCC has charged Cheney and three other executives personally, along with the company, for violating Nigeria's anti-corruption laws.
"Dick Cheney was head of Halliburton," says Waziri. "There's no way such amount of money would've been moved to bribe Nigerians without his approval and without his knowledge, this is what we're saying."
Nigeria Prosecutor Says Dick Cheney Not Above the Law
Nigeria has a global reputation for corruption. In 2010 the anti-corruption watchdog group Transparency International ranked Nigeria as one of the 50 most corrupt countries in the world. Multi-national corporations and small businessmen operating in Nigeria often say the same thing, that it is impossible to conduct business in a completely transparent and legitimate way.
The latest Wikileaks cables about Nigeria seem to confirm this notion. Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, who recently paid over $75 million in compensation for testing a meningitis drug on Nigerian children without parental consent, is portrayed in one cable as wanting to find incriminating evidence against Nigeria's attorney general to pressure him to drop the case.
"Pfizer had hired investigators to uncover corruption links to Federal Attorney General Michael Aondoakaa to expose him and put pressure on him to drop the federal cases," read the cable dated April 9, 2009 and published by the Guardian newspaper.
More cables detail oil giant Shell's dealings with the Nigerian government including an admission that the company had infiltrated every level of government and knew all of its inner-workings, as well as offering to share intelligence with U.S. officials about the troubled oil-rich Niger Delta region.
Waziri says Nigerians are aware that their country has an "endemic" problem with corruption, but that the actions of multi-national corporations are only helping fuel it.
"Big firms doing business in Nigeria, coming to Nigeria with the mindset that this is a corrupt country, everybody is so corrupt, anything goes. They won't follow rules and procedures. They just go to corrupt individuals and institutions offering bribes and then doing a shoddy job or not doing it at all," says Waziri. "This is what we are not going to accept anymore."