The Halliburton Shuffle
By BOB HERBERT
01/30/04: (New York Times) Can you spell Halliburton? R-i-p- o-f-f.
War-torn Iraq has been a gold mine for Halliburton, yet another treasure trove of U.S. taxpayer dollars for a company that has no peer in the fine art of extracting riches from the government.
But if you go through some of Halliburton's filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission over the past several years, as I have, you'll see a company that goes to great lengths — literally to the ends of the earth — to escape paying its fair share of taxes to the government that has been so good to it.
Annual reports filed with the S.E.C. since the mid-90's — when Dick Cheney took over as chief executive and wrote the game plan for garnering government goodies — showed Halliburton subsidiaries incorporated in such places as the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, Trinidad and Tobago, Panama, Liechtenstein, and Vanuatu.
Vanuatu? Who knew?
Vanuatu is a mountainous group of islands in the South Pacific. Its people support themselves mostly by fishing and subsistence farming. "Additional revenues," according to the Columbia Encyclopedia, "derive from a growing tourist industry and the development of Vila [the capital] as a corporate tax shelter."
Halliburton, in an S.E.C. filing in 2000, duly noted that it had a subsidiary incorporated in Vanuatu called Kinhill Kramer (Vanuatu) Ltd.
The company adamantly denies that its offshore subsidiaries are used to shift income out of the U.S. But it's indisputable that somebody is doing a dandy job of limiting Halliburton's tax liability. When I asked how much Halliburton paid in federal income taxes last year, a company spokeswoman, Wendy Hall, said, "After foreign tax credit utilization, we paid just over $15 million to the I.R.S. for our 2002 tax liability."
That is effectively no money at all to an empire like Halliburton. Less than pocket change. Dick Cheney must be having a good laugh over the way his old company, following his road map, is taking the U.S. for such a ride.
In the early 90's, when Mr. Cheney was defense secretary under the first President Bush, he hired the Halliburton subsidiary Brown & Root to determine what military functions could be outsourced to private profit-making companies. Brown & Root came up with myriad ideas in a classified study and was handed a lucrative contract to implement its own plan.
Mr. Cheney took over as chief executive of Halliburton in 1995, and the defense contracts just kept on coming. When he returned to government as vice president in 2001, no firm was better positioned than Halliburton to cash in on the billions of dollars in contracts that resulted from the war on terror and the conflict in Iraq.
Halliburton is bound so intimately to the defense establishment it might as well be an adjunct to the military. (Mr. Cheney still receives deferred compensation from Halliburton but insists he has no role in the awarding of contracts.)
Halliburton is an organization that has the reach of a multinational and the eyes of a Willie Sutton. Through its subsidiaries, it has done work with countries the U.S. has accused of supporting terror. It was accused of overcharging the U.S. government for work done in the 1990's, and in 2002 it agreed to pay a $2 million settlement in response to accusations that it had defrauded the government.
The Pentagon is currently examining allegations that the Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root overcharged the government by $61 million for gasoline imported into Iraq from Kuwait. Last week the company acknowledged that at least one employee had participated in a $6.3 million kickback deal with a Kuwaiti company. That money has reportedly been repaid to the government.
What we have here is a private profit-making multinational company with no particular allegiance (other than contractual) to the U.S. government. Nevertheless, through its powerful allies in the government, Halliburton enjoys extraordinary influence over national defense policies and has its own key to the national treasury.
If it's at all grateful, it hasn't shown it. The U.S. is at war. The government is running record deficits. Money is tight everywhere. But Halliburton won't even kick in its fair share. It continues to benefit from the nation's largesse, while scouring the world for places to shelter as much of its American riches as possible.
Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company
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