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'Oil Ticket' Could Face Corruption Scandal

  • The GOP presidential ticket may be fending off questions from reporters concerning a Swiss investigation linking George W. Bush and Dick Cheney to big oil's bribes and pay-offs to foreign interests.
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By Martin Mann

Gov. George W. Bush and Richard Cheney, the Republican presidential and vice presidential candidates, known in Washington as the "oil ticket" for their intimate connections to the petroleum industry, may face worse corruption scandals in coming months than the lewd, mendacious and cash-hungry Clin ton administration ever did, The SPOTLIGHT has learned from Euro pean and U.S. investigative sources.

As Cheney, a millionaire petroleum executive who served as defense secretary in the administration of George Bush, the candidate's father, rose to ac cept the vice-presidential nomination from the cheering Republican convention in Philadelphia, Swiss prosecutors quietly moved to impound over $130 million in allegedly laundered funds deposited in Swiss banks.

According to the preliminary findings of the Swiss inquiry, the frozen funds represent under-the-table payoffs slip ped to the top government officials of Kazakhstan by giant U.S. petroleum companies seeking favored access to that oil-rich country, a former Soviet province that attained independence after the collapse of communism.

Advised by Swiss authorities that the suspect accounts -- more than $85 million found hidden in private numbered accounts controlled by Kazakh President Nursultan A. Nazarbayev in a single Geneva bank, Banque Pictet -- may violate the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, federal authorities in Washington launched an investigation of their own.

The U.S. probe quickly focused on James H. Giffen, head of the Mercator Corporation, known as an influential American financial adviser to Nazar ba yev.

Last month, the Justice Department sent Swiss chief prosecutor Daniel Devaud a confidential memorandum na ming Giffen and his public-relations company as the targets of a formal federal criminal investigation.

According to this memorandum, the Giffen probe was triggered by the findings of FBI agents indicating that the millions impounded at Banque Pictet and other Swiss money-centers repre sen ted illegal payoffs to Kazakh officials by three major U.S. oil companies: Exxon Mobil, BP Amoco, and Phillips Petro leum.

Giffen's alleged role was that of the go-between who secretly transferred these huge bribes from the U.S. oil corporations along circuitous international money-laundering routes to Kazak hstan's president and his top aides.

Spokespersons for Exxon Mobil, BP Amoco and Phillips Petroleum have denied any wrongdoing. Mark J. Mac Dougal, a Washington lawyer for Gif fen, also denied the charges.

But the Swiss-American inquiry is continuing. If it turns up solid evidence of bribery by U.S. oil interests -- sources close to the case call it "the most likely outcome" -- the next time-bomb of a question will be: How many other petroleum potentates are soiled by this sordid affair?

Until he was offered -- and accepted -- the Republican vice-presidential nomination this month, Cheney served as pre sident of the Halliburton Corpo ra tion, the world's largest oil-service, explora tion and engineering outfit.

A number of Halliburton's field operations have been linked to Exxon Mobil's and BP Amoco's overseas ventures in recent years. Investigators are poised to explore whether these links involved any operations in corruption-riddled Kazak hstan.

Washington is buzzing with excited ru mors that some major Bush campaign contributors -- long-time cronies of the presidential candidate -- will face not just stinging embarrassment but criminal in dictment when these cases hit the headlines, especially if the Republicans fail to gain the White House this fall.