Can Anyone Top Cheney & Halliburton?

I do plainly and ingenuously confess that I am guilty of corruption, and do renounce all defense.

Francis Bacon, on being charged with corruption

Let the foolishness begin. In what was one of the cutest op-ed pieces in the current presidential campaign wars and echoing what lots of other Republicans are saying, the New York Times’ David Brooks wrote a bedtime story description of John Kerry’s acceptance of campaign contributions from lobbyists whose causes the Senator had supported from time to time. Mr. Brooks described how a Chinese woman, Liu Chaoying, came to this country hoping to fulfill a dream she had harbored since a little girl to found a company that would end up being listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Mr. Brooks described her dream as “the most specialist dream in the world.” He described how she went to see a “most special man named Johnny Chung” who took her to meet John Kerry. The Senator arranged for her to meet with a senior S.E.C. official “about making her special dream come true.” A few weeks later Mr. Kerry’s campaign received $10,000 from a fund raiser sponsored by Johnny Chung.

Mr. Brooks described how the Senator received a campaign contribution of $30,000 from the insurance company American International Group after he blocked legislation that would have ended a federal contracting loophole that benefitted that company. Mr. Brooks described the loophole as a “cuddly kind of loophole you can hold under the blankets and tell your secrets to late at night.” He described other special interests that had contributed to Mr. Kerry’s campaigns. As you can tell from these brief snippets, it was a really cute column. Strangely, he didn’t mention Haliburton. That’s because Haliburton has nothing to do with John Kerry. It has everything to do with the party Mr. Brooks thinks hung the moon. The cuddly misdeeds Mr. Brooks describes pale by comparison to the cute things Haliburton has done. And that doesn’t even include its cute trick of overcharging for gasoline delivered to Iraq by approximately $61 billion.

Consider the $27.4 million in overcharges for meals served to American troops at five military bases which, according to Haliburton were simply overcharges and not evidence of wrongdoing. $16 million of the overcharges occurred at one base according to the Wall Street Journal that first disclosed the problem. The fault lies not, we are assured, with Haliburton’s subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root. Although it handled the food service contract it subcontracted to a Saudi subcontractor and it was the subcontractor that billed for roughly three times more meals than it actually served. That is not KBR’s fault although one might think that a January 8 memorandum from KBR instructing the Saudi subcontractor to charge for “the projected number of meals or the actual head count-whichever is greater” might conceivably have been partly responsible for the problem. Not to worry. According to a Haliburton spokesperson, “KBR is working with the government to improve the counting method” and on February 2 the Pentagon said Haliburton would repay the government for overcharges estimated to be $27.4 million. Had the error not been discovered by the government, KBR would have pocketed the overcharges and sung a happy tune all the way to the bank. Haliburton’s cuddly arrangement with money is not limited to food and fuel.

In January it was reported that two employees of KBR had taken kickbacks from a Kuwaiti subcontractor providing services to troops in Kuwait, kickbacks that result in repayment to the government of $6.3 million. On January 23, 2004, it was reported by the Guardian in Great Britain that a French judge has warned that Dick Cheney could be charged over allegations that on his watch, Haliburton paid $180 million in bribes to get permission to build a Nigerian gas plant. According to a confidential memo disclosed by the French daily Le Figaro, Judge Renaud van Ruymbeke let the Justice Ministry know that embezzlement charges could ultimately be filed against Cheney. Nigerian prosecutors are pursuing a similar investigation. The investigations arise out of a contract won by KBR to build a Liquefied Natural Gas plant in the mid-1990s that cost more than $4 billion. The Justice Department has ordered Haliburton to provide documents relating to the alleged bribe. Mr. Cheney was head of Haliburton for five of the seven years during which the bribes were allegedly paid. Mr. Cheney’s spokespersons have refused to comment on the case.

Haliburton’s actions weren’t described in Mr. Brooks’ whimsical column. He may have thought since some of them raise the possibility of criminal conduct by the vice-president of the United States they were too serious to be dealt with in a frivolous way. He would have been right.

CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI is a Boulder, Colorado lawyer. His column appears weekly in the Daily Camera. He can be reached at:


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