I'm still waiting for Congressional investigations to begin into Halliburton's move to Dubai.
Six months ago Halliburton -- our leading military contractor in Iraq, thanks largely to no-bid no-look contracts -- announced that it was moving its main corporate headquarters and its chief executive from Houston to Dubai.
The apparently hasty move came but a month after Halliburton spun off its military division -- KBR -- as a separate legal entity and, curiously, about the same time federal investigators started charging that Halliburton, or whatever-the-legal-hair-splitters-now- want-to-call-that-company, had illegally squandered, overcharged, and defrauded U.S. taxpayers out of billions in Iraq.
Just a business move?
Realize that Dubai has become the grand destination for cutthroat corporations seeking to evade domestic taxes and regulations -- a Switzerland, Hong Kong, Cayman Islands, and Las Vegas all rolled into one. Plus, Human Rights Watch reports that boomtown Dubai features exploitative and hazardous working conditions that HRW describes as "modern-day slavery." No corporate taxes, no regulations, no extradition treaties, cheap labor, great golf courses, great beach, great horse track, tallest buildings: such a deal!
Oh I forgot: The Dubai Chamber of Commerce boasts that Dubai City features a whole bunch of fantastic shopping malls. But let's face it: The Halliburton folks didn't move to Dubai in order to expand their fashion opportunities.
Six months ago, leading Democrats demanded an investigation. Should our national security basically be outsourced to Dubai (didn't we go through this once before with the U.S. ports issue)? Isn't the re-headquartering, given the war situation and Halliburton's profitable role in it, just a tad un-American? Should U.S. tax dollars really be flowing into a tax haven? Henry Waxman, Hillary Clinton, Patrick Leahy, Bryon Dorgan, and Charles Schumer all denounced the move and called for investigations. So what happened? Where's the follow-up?
Halliburton's PR defenders have claimed that the move doesn't fail the stink test at all: Oh no, they contend, Halliburton won't be avoiding any U.S. taxes, no sirree. Nor is it in their business plan to avoid any U.S. laws and regulations, none whatsoever, that's the company line. The CEO simply wants, he says, shorter airplane rides to nearby Middle East business hot spots, and that's the main reason he's left the U.S. mainland (I don't think he's including Iraq, however, anytime soon in that tight travel schedule of his).
Color me credulous? Not so fast. Halliburton, with its subsidiary after subsidiary, shell company after shell company, has a history of making offshore accounting practices into a fine art. And some tax experts claim that this move will be a HUGE financial windfall for them, precisely because of tax relief, much of it indirect and off the books. As for skirting U.S. laws: I happen to know that Halliburton lawyers have already argued in one court case that the new Dubai location allegedly exempts them from certain U.S. regulations (the judge said, no way). Evidently they've already forgotten about those six-month old reassurances to the contrary.
It wouldn't surprise me in the least if certain ex-Bush officials eventually announce that they are taking up permanent residence in Dubai -- for the recreational and health benefits, of course.
Halliburton's track record is clear: This company doesn't deserve our trust. Let the formal investigations commence -- while our laws still have some jurisdiction. Maybe it's not too late to put CEO Dave Lesar on a no-fly list.