The Ambassador of Switzerland to Nigeria, Dr. Hans-Rudolf Hodel has disclosed that a total of $700 million deposited in Swiss banks by the late former military President, General Sani Abacha have so far been returned to the Nigerian government even as proceedings are still pending in Geneva against Abacha's son, Abba, for support of a criminal organisation.
The envoy made this known in Abuja, yesterday when he briefed newsmen about an upcoming seminar by the Switzerland embassy and the Inter-Governmental Action Group against Money Laundering in West Africa (GIABA) on Anti - Money Laundering and Combating the Financing of Terrorism.
According to Hodel, in the last 15 years, Switzerland had returned about $1.7 billion of illegal and questionable sources to their countries of origin including Angola, Peru, Nigeria and the Philippines, where he noted that he is not aware of the existence of $1 billion alluded to by former President Olusegun Obasanjo as still being held in the Swiss banks.
The envoy noted that the Abacha case and others led to Switzerland taking more stringent steps to combat illicit dealings in its financial sector: no anonymous accounts, banking secrecy which is lifted when there are suspicions of criminal activities, strengthening anti- money laundering regulations and being an active member of the Financial Action Task Force against Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing.
"Swiss banking secrecy does not any protection against criminal prosecution, neither within Switzerland nor regarding international legal assistance. Additional measures prevent assets from being withdrawn before foreign authorities and law enforcement agencies submit a formal request for legal assistance or information for investigative purposes," Hodel said.
Such assistance, he added, may include providing the banking information and the freezing of bank accounts if such accounts have been identified in the criminal proceedings outlined in the legal requests. It is important, he said, that returned funds are not embezzled by corrupt officials of the benefiting government.