PARIS, June 2: Halliburton, the US company which has obtained the lion’s share of contracts for the re-establishment of petroleum production in Iraq, is at the centre of a French judicial investigation that suspects that the company, and its then chairman, now US Vice-President Richard Cheney, took part in a massive bribery operation over the development in the late 1990s of an LNG field located near Bonny Island, Nigeria.

Much pressure is being placed, however, says a judicial source, on the French government to see to it that the French judges quietly put aside the case.

Attorneys representing Halliburton’s interests apparently argue that as the operation took place in such non-French locations as Nigeria and the Portuguese island of Madera, Halliburton is a US-based and US nationality company, and French judges have no right to undertake an investigation into a matter that should be pursued by either Nigeria or Portugal and the United States.

In spite of the evident pressure being brought to bear for the French investigation to be dropped, the French justice ministry has not yet handed down any instructions in the matter and the judges appear to be pursuing their case nevertheless. One source notes that the Halliburton inquiry by the French is “one of several” reasons why Washington recently undertook its large-scale anti-French campaign, hoping that such tactics might force President Jacques Chirac to back down.

It was the interrogation of George Krammer, a former president of the French petroleum engineering group Technip, that tipped off the judges to the existence of the bribery operation, valued in excess of 180 million dollars, and whetted their appetite to know more.

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