"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)
Friday, August 26, 2005
In the mid-1990s, long before oil prices topped $60 a barrel, U.S. companies sought access to Kazakhstan, a Central Asian nation that the U.S. State Department says will be among the world's top 10 producers of crude by 2015.
First, they had to win approval from Jim Giffen, a New York investment banker who became an official in Kazakhstan's government and held sway over its energy deals.
``You couldn't go to a Kazakh minister, particularly if you were an American company, without going through Giffen,'' says Ed Chow, who managed external affairs at Chevron Overseas Petroleum Ltd., a unit of San Ramon, California-based Chevron Corp....
Now, federal prosecutors say Giffen, 64, cemented his power by bribing Kazakh leaders with $84 million that Amoco Corp., Mobil Oil Co., Phillips Petroleum Co. and Texaco Inc. paid to win access to Kazakh fields. In January, Giffen goes on trial in federal district court in New York in one of the largest overseas criminal bribery cases ever....
[A conviction] would be a steep fall for a man who owns an $80,000 Bentley Brooklands and an 11-acre estate in Mamaroneck, a New York suburb. The investigation has ensnared others, too.
A Mobil executive who ran the company's oil efforts in Kazakhstan, Bryan Williams, 65, pleaded guilty in June 2003 to tax evasion stemming from the case....
Giffen's job included more than securing oil contracts. Elizabeth Jones, 57, who was U.S. ambassador to Kazakhstan from 1995 to 1998, says Giffen told her he spearheaded a restructuring of the Kazakh government....
[Robert] Baer, the former CIA officer who's author of ``See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War on Terrorism'' (Crown Publishing, 2002), says Giffen also injected himself into U.S.-Kazakh relations.
Baer, whose book criticizes CIA anti-terrorism efforts, says the State Department turned to Giffen when it wanted to stop [Kazakh President Nursultan] Nazarbayev from selling surface-to-air missiles and other arms to North Korea and Iran.
He says Giffen reviewed a secret CIA report on government corruption in Kazakhstan. ``They went to Jim Giffen to make problems go away,'' Baer says. ``He was the channel.''
Defense attorneys [Steven] Cohen and [William] Schwartz say in court papers they'll point to such contacts as proof that the U.S. condoned Giffen's payments to build ties with an oil-rich nation in a strategic region.
They've demanded records of Giffen's communications with 15 former U.S. officials, including Secretary of State James Baker, National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft and CIA Director Robert Gates.
The lawyers also say Giffen, as a Kazakh official, acted lawfully by heeding orders from Kazakh superiors to transfer funds to Switzerland. ``Mr. Giffen routinely reported to the CIA upon his return from his numerous trips,'' Schwartz said in court last year.
``When the government of the United States needed something to be done in Kazakhstan, Mr. Giffen was asked to do it,'' Schwartz said.