NIGERIA: Bilfinger Paid Tesler Regarding Nigeria Plant

Publisher Name: 
Wall Street Journal

German construction company Bilfinger Berger AG said it made payments related to a Nigerian contract to British lawyer Jeffrey Tesler, who is already the focus of a French investigation into unexplained payments from a consortium led by a Halliburton Co. subsidiary.

Bilfinger Berger's acknowledgment that it paid money to Mr. Tesler suggests that the pattern of unexplained payments relating to a massive Nigerian liquefied natural-gas plant from 1995 to 2002 may have been more widespread than originally thought, involving both the prime contractor for the plant and construction subcontractors.

A French investigating magistrate is trying to establish why the TSKJ consortium, which is led by Halliburton's Kellogg Brown & Root unit, had paid as much as $150 million to Mr. Tesler's Gibraltar-based company, Tristar.

The magistrate, Renaud Van Ruymbeke, also has been trying to establish why Mr. Tesler subsequently made substantial payments to various people, including about $5 million to former KBR Chairman Albert J. "Jack" Stanley.

Bilfinger Berger isn't a focus of the French investigation, but spokesman Sascha Bamberger confirmed that his company had paid money to Tristar after winning a 1996 civil-engineering contract from TSKJ to help build the $5 billion LNG plant. "Tristar performed consulting services for us and was of course paid for them," said Mr. Bamberger in a written response to questions about the payments.

He declined to answer any further questions, saying that Bilfinger Berger wouldn't disclose detailed information about its business relationships.

Bilfinger Berger's statement marks the first time that evidence has emerged of payments to Mr. Tesler by a subcontractor, as opposed to the primary contractor, at the Bonny Island plant.

Bilfinger Berger's Nigerian subsidiary, Julius Berger Nigeria PLC, was contracted by TSKJ in 1996 to build the infrastructure required for the world's largest LNG plant, built on an island in the Nigerian mangrove swamps.

The contract included leveling the approximately 385-acre site, laying about 15 miles of roads and building a nearly 800-yard-long jetty from which the liquefied natural gas would be loaded onto ships.

Another person with knowledge of the German company's Nigerian contract said Julius Berger's contract from TSKJ was valued at about $100 million. The same person said that Bilfinger Berger paid about 5% of that amount to Mr. Tesler's company in 1999.

Mr. Tesler in London declined to comment on Bilfinger Berger's payments. His Paris-based lawyer, Thierry Marembert, was unavailable for comment yesterday. Last month Mr. Marembert said in an interview that although Mr. Tesler had been to Nigeria only once, he had been paid $130 million by TSKJ as a fee for work relating to the Bonny Island project.

He qualified Mr. Tesler's work as "economic education" of Nigerian government authorities, persuading them to accept a stake of less than 50% of the LNG plant operating company.

Mr. Marembert denied that Mr. Tesler had paid any money to Nigerian officials, but said he had used some of the money on "public relations and local development" issues related to the plant.

The TSKJ consortium, led by KBR, also includes Technip SA of France, a unit of Italy's ENI SpA and JGC Corp. of Japan. Last month Halliburton said it had severed all links with former KBR Chairman Mr. Stanley, that it had terminated its relationship with Mr. Tesler and that it was considering legal action against Tristar.

Mr. Stanley's lawyer, Lee Kaplan, declined to comment and a spokeswoman for Halliburton didn't return a message seeking comment.

AMP Section Name:Energy