Nigeria’s deal to drop Cheney charges called illegal

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Lawyers and media pundits in Nigeria are accusing the government of acting illegally by agreeing to settle criminal bribery charges against Dick Cheney out of court.

Nigeria charged Cheney and applied for an Interpol arrest warrant earlier this month in connection with a $180-million bribery case. Cheney’s former employer, Halliburton, reportedly agreed to pay $35 million to see the charges dropped.

But Nigeria could see as much as $250 million from the deal, in “the form of a deal to free up Nigerian money that had been locked away in Swiss bank accounts,” The Nation‘s John Nichols reports.

Critics of the deal say it has no basis in Nigerian law, which reportedly does not allow plea deals in criminals cases.

In a letter to Nigeria’s anti-corruption watchdog, Osuagwu Ugochukwu, a prominent lawyer in Abuja, said the withdrawal of charges against Cheney was a breach of the law.

“We know as a point of law that once a criminal charge has been filed in a competent court, issue of penalty of fine is for the courts to impose and not parties,” he wrote. “Hence, we are shocked to hear that EFCC imposed a fine on an accused person. We also know as a point of law that criminal matters cannot be settled out of court as in civil matters in Nigeria.”

“The outcome of the deal with Halliburton tends to suggest a smart way of making quick money while leaving the culprits unpunished,” an editorial in Nigeria’s Daily Sun argues. “This method invariably has its own drawbacks that could encourage similar criminal acts in future.”

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