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Halliburton asbestos deal 'final'

Date Class
4th Dec 2004 Other Issue
Troubled engineering giant Halliburton has won a US court order approving the settlement of asbestos claims by the end of the month.

Halliburton, once run by US Vice President Dick Cheney, agreed a $4.2bn (2.1bn) settlement in July.

Halliburton said the court's decision should enable it to bring the claims-hit Kellogg, Brown & Root subsidiary out of bankruptcy this month. In a separate court case, an ex-KBR worker sued over alleged Iraq back pay.

Halliburton's Nigerian operations were also the focus of Swiss prosecutors' attention on Friday. Geneva magistrate Daniel Dumartheray confirmed he had ordered the freezing of bank accounts at the request of a French judge investigating allegations of bribery by Halliburton contractors in Nigeria in the 1990s.

Swiss newspapers reported the accounts contained $100m. The magistrate declined to comment on the sums involved or the owners of the accounts. Halliburton has said it has ended links with the subjects of the investigation.

The asbestos order takes Halliburton a step closer to a possible sale of loss-making KBR. Halliburton said it "anticipates concluding the bankruptcy by year-end" and funding the asbestos settlement trusts by 30 January.

Halliburton filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection for KBR to negotiate the settlement. Chapter 11 rules oblige anyone with a claim on company funds to get court approval for pay-outs.

The asbestos claims are the biggest financial headache facing KBR, which inherited them from Dresser Industries when it bought that firm five years ago.

Halliburton said in September that it would consider KBR's future options - including a sell-off - once the claims were concluded.

Halliburton's reputation has suffered from scandals at KBR over Pentagon Iraq contracts, and huge cost overruns at Brazilian offshore oil field services operations.

US government auditors recently upheld Pentagon plans to withhold 15% of KBR's payments for providing army meals after an finding faults in the billing system.

In an unrelated case, Sammie Curry Smith Jr filed a civil lawsuit in the US district court in Houston on Friday claiming overtime pay he says was unfairly withheld for his work in Iraq, Reuters news agency reported.

Melissa Moore, a lawyer for Mr Smith, said she believed that "it was not just Mr Smith but a substantial number of employees that were not paid fairly".

Halliburton has denied withholding pay and said it believes Mr Smith's case rests on a misunderstanding of the law.




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