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Lawyer Jeffrey Tesler ‘bribed officials in $6bn Nigerian gas deal’

Times Online
September 12, 2008

Lawyer Jeffrey Tesler ‘bribed officials in $6bn Nigerian gas deal’

A suburban solicitor accused of distributing £100 million of bribes to secure lucrative gas contracts is being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office.

Jeffrey Tesler has been identified as the “British agent” who handled payments from an international consortium awarded contracts to build a $6 billion (£3.5 billion) gas-production plant in Nigeria.

The British Government has admitted underwriting a £122 million loan for the project, now at the centre of one of the biggest bribery scandals.

Mr Tesler, who is based at a shabby office in Tottenham, North London, is accused of being a middleman for the payment of bribes to Nigerian officials between 1995 and 2004.

The consortium included the engineering consultancy M. W. Kellogg, whose British subsidiary is based in Greenford, West London. In September 1998 Kellogg was taken over by the American company Halliburton, which was controlled by Dick Cheney until he became US Vice-President in 2000.

The Government faced demands for an independent inquiry into why the taxpayer had underwritten financing for the scheme as the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) said that it was investigating the case. Details of the scheme have been revealed by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which refers to the London connection simply as a “British agent”. This agent is identified as Mr Tesler in an official report by Halliburton.

Mr Tesler, 60, is accused of controlling a Gibraltar-based shell company used to pay the bribes. He is alleged to have arranged for executives of the consortium to meet senior Nigerian officials in November 1994 to discuss plans to build a giant liquified-gas plant in the Niger Delta. During the meeting the consortium agreed to pay Mr Tesler $60 million, with the understanding that a substantial portion would be funnelled to Nigerian officials as bribes, it is alleged. The next month the consortium was selected as the “preferred contractor”.

In December 1995 it was awarded the $2.2 billion contract to build the first two stages of the gas plant. The consortium sent $60 million to Mr Tesler’s Swiss bank account between December 1995 and March 2000, the American investigators claim. Senior executives in the consortium travelled to Nigeria in 1997, 1999 and 2001 to meet officials to confirm that Mr Tesler remained the correct intermediary for bribes, it is alleged.

Between March 1999 and January 2004 the consortium agreed to pay a total of £85.5 million into Mr Tesler’s accounts in Switzerland and Monaco. In return it was given contracts totalling $3.8 billion. Mr Tesler is a consultant for Kaye Tesler Solicitors, based in a shopfront office between a halal grocers and an estate agents. He lives in a £1.5 million detached home in Hendon, northwest London. The lawyer, who friends say is instantly recognisable because of his trademark brown fedora, is also a director of several property and IT companies and runs his own trade consultancy.

His alleged involvement in the bribery has been detailed in the prosecution of the former Kellogg chief executive and chairman Albert Stanley, who was dismissed in June 2004. Stanley, 65, pleaded guilty last week in America to conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. He faces up to seven years in jail and an order to repay $10.8 million he received in kickbacks.

Halliburton, which disposed of its stake in Kellogg last year, said in an official filing to the SEC that Mr Tesler was under investigation by a French magistrate for “corruption of a foreign official”.

Norman Lamb, a campaigning Liberal Democrat MP, called last night for an inquiry into the bribery allegations. “There needs to be a full investigation into how the British Government facilitated this particularly when there had been warnings,” he said. “It is startling that the American authorities are already bring successful prosecutions when the SFO has not even brought charges.”

Mr Tesler, who is understood to deny any wrongdoing, refused to comment.

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