This Day (Lagos)

27 March 2014

Nigeria: Govt Welcomes U.S. Effort to Repatriate Abacha's Loot

The federal government Wednesday said it welcomed the forfeiture proceedings initiated by the United States Department of Justice against the property related to the corrupt conduct of late General Sani Abacha, the former Head of State of Nigeria, and his associates and the subsequent laundering of corruption proceeds.

The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister for Jutice, Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN), in a statement said the US proceeding would make it possible for the Abacha family and associates to forfeit over $550million and £95,910 in 10 accounts and six investment portfolios linked to the Abachas in France, Britain, British Virgin Islands and the United States. He said the federal government commended the efforts of the US to recover the proceeds of corruption for the benefit of the people of Nigeria. Adoke said his office had received requests for mutual legal assistance from the US and that he would cooperate with the US authorities.

He said: "As the central authority for the Federal Republic of Nigeria, my office has received requests for mutual legal assistance for the central authority of the US and we are cooperating with the country in line with the obligations we assumed under the Treaty on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters."

The justice minister said the overall objective of the efforts was to ensure that Nigeria as the victim state was able to have the forfeited assets (money) repatriated to Nigeria to fund development projects for the benefit of the people in accordance with the dictates of Chapter IV of the United Nations Convention against a corruption (UNCAC).

He gave assurance that Nigeria as state party to UNCAC would do all that was required to ensure that money was released to Nigeria. The US had early this month said it had ordered a freeze on $458 million in assets stolen by Abacha and his accomplices and hidden in European accounts.

The Justice Department said the corruption proceeds - stashed away in bank accounts in Britain, France and Jersey - were frozen at Washington's request with the help of local authorities.

Abacha died in office in 1998. According to a civil forfeiture complaint unsealed in the US District Court in Washington, the department wants the recover more than $550 million in connection with the action. "This is the largest civil forfeiture action to recover the proceeds of foreign official corruption ever brought by the department," said Mythili Raman, acting assistant attorney general.

"General Abacha was one of the most notorious kleptocrats in memory, who embezzled billions from the people of Nigeria, while millions lived in poverty," she said.

The Justice Department said the assets frozen - along with additional assets named in the complaint - represent the "proceeds of corruption" during and after the military regime of Abacha, who became president of Nigeria through a military coup on November 17, 1993 and held that office until his death on June 8, 1998.

The complaint alleges that Abacha, his son Mohammed Sani Abacha, their associate, Abubakar Atiku Bagudu and others "embezzled, misappropriated and extorted billions from the government of Nigeria and others, then laundered their criminal proceeds through the purchase of bonds backed by the US, using US financial institutions."

The funds frozen included approximately $313 million in two bank accounts in the Bailiwick of Jersey and $145 million in two bank accounts in France, the department said.

Four investment portfolios and three bank accounts in Britain were frozen with an estimated value of at least $100 million but the exact amounts in the accounts have not yet been determined, it said. The Justice Department said that on February 25 and 26, authorities in Jersey, France and Britain complied with the US action to freeze the assets. The complaint also seeks to freeze five corporate entities registered in the British Virgin Islands.

According to the complaint, Abacha and others systematically embezzled billions of dollars in public funds from Nigeria's central bank on the false pretense that the funds were necessary for national security. They withdrew the funds in cash and then moved the money overseas through US financial institutions.

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