Halliburton Accused of Accounting Fraud

A new filing in a shareholder class-action lawsuit against Halliburton Co. (HAL) contends that the world's No. 2 oilfield services company and several top executives intentionally engaged in "serial accounting fraud" from 1998 to 2001, court papers show.

The filing accuses Houston-based Halliburton of systematic accounting misdeeds far more wide-ranging than those charged in a recent civil lawsuit by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (search ).

Halliburton agreed on Tuesday to pay $7.5 million to settle SEC charges that it misled investors by not disclosing an accounting change that boosted profit in 1998 and 1999.

Among other things, the filing accuses Halliburton of inflating results, failing to disclose a big asbestos verdict in a timely manner, and being unable to account for $3.1 billion of profit and cash.

In a statement, Halliburton called the lawsuit an abusive attempt to extort money from current shareholders and smear the company and its employees.

The allegations in the 101-page filing and the SEC action cover two years when Vice President Dick Cheney (search ) was Halliburton's chief executive officer, though he was not named as a defendant in either proceeding.

The filing with the U.S. District Court in Dallas was first reported by the New York Times. Reuters obtained a copy.

Named as defendants are Halliburton and four executives; David Lesar, formerly the company's chief operating officer and now its CEO; Douglas Foshee, a former chief financial officer and now CEO of El Paso Corp. (EP ); Gary Morris, another former CFO; and Robert Muchmore, a former controller.

Muchmore also settled with the SEC, and like Halliburton neither admitted nor denied wrongdoing. Morris did not settle, and is being sued by the SEC in federal court in Houston.

El Paso and lawyers for Foshee and Muchmore could not immediately be reached for comment.

Halliburton said the Dallas court had "preliminarily approved Halliburton's settlement of approximately 20 class-action securities cases ... and ordered that no further complaints be filed."

These cases included two filed by class-action specialist Scott & Scott LLC of Colchester, Connecticut, on whose behalf the filing was made, the company said.

The new complaint, attached as an exhibit to a motion to file it, is a bid to "generate publicity, while violating the spirit but not the letter of that order," Halliburton said. "Many of their complaints have already been asked and already been answered. It is virtually a recycled lawsuit."

The filing contends that Halliburton's Kellogg Brown & Root (search ) engineering and construction unit inflated results through artificially boosting revenue or understating expenses.

One employee said supervisors told her to do "whatever it took to make (projects) come back to plan," or profitability, the filing said.

The filing also said Halliburton did not disclose a $130 million jury verdict in September 2001 in an asbestos case involving its Harbison-Walker unit, and that five weeks after they learned of the verdict, Lesar and Foshee told analysts that news on asbestos liabilities was "positive."

On Dec. 7, 2001, after news of the verdict and other asbestos verdicts became public, Halliburton shares fell 42 percent.

The filing also said that from 1998 to 2001 about $3.1 billion "went missing" as the company generated $1 billion of profit and $2.1 billion from asset sales, yet ended the period with roughly the same amount of debt and cash as it started.