Nigeria: UK Joins U.S. to Block Bagudu's Claim On Abacha Loot

Abacha's loot.
7 April 2020

The United Kingdom has joined the United States in resisting an alleged plan by the federal government to hand over nearly $110 million out of money the American authorities claimed was stolen by the late dictator, Gen. Sani Abacha, to Kebbi State Governor, Alhaji Abubakar Bagudu.

The three governments are involved in a dispute over investment portfolios worth 141 million euros ($155 million) traced to Abacha and held in trust for Bagudu and his family.

Bloomberg reported that the federal government is seeking the approval of a UK court for the country to take ownership of the assets before returning 70 per cent of the proceeds to Bagudu under the terms of a 2018 deal.

The UK government's National Crime Agency (NCA) "is opposing the Federal Republic of Nigeria's application," according to a motion filed by Bagudu's brother, Ibrahim, to the District Court for the District of Columbia in the US capital on March 30.

The US Department of Justice said in February that its Nigerian counterpart was hindering its efforts to recover the allegedly laundered money from the UK.

Bagudu was alleged to be part of a network controlled by Abacha that "embezzled, misappropriated and extorted billions from the government of Nigeria," according to the DoJ.

While successive Nigerian governments have repatriated billions of dollars looted by Abacha, who died in office in 1998, the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari said it's prevented from assisting the United States' ongoing forfeiture efforts by an agreement between Bagudu and a previous government in 2003.

Abacha is estimated to have stolen as much as $5 billion during his five-year rule.

That 2003 settlement, which was approved by a UK court, allowed Bagudu to return $163 million to Nigeria "without admitting to wrongdoing," according to US court filings.

In return, the government dropped all outstanding civil and criminal claims against him.

Bagudu was elected a senator in 2009 and the governor of Kebbi State six years later.

Five years after the United States launched fresh forfeiture proceedings against him, Bagudu and Buhari's administration struck a new accord in October 2018 to transfer ownership of the investment portfolios to the Nigerian state, which would immediately pay 98.5 million euros to Bagudu and his affiliates.

The terms of the updated settlement could not be implemented, while Nigeria's application in a UK court is pending and a freezing order is still in place, according to a motion by Ibrahim Bagudu, who is entitled to a $100,000 annuity from the funds and is contesting the US confiscation efforts.

Neither the Bagudus nor representatives of the DoJ, NCA, Nigeria's Attorney General or Ibrahim Bagudu responded to requests by Bloomberg for comment.

Although the DoJ and NCA opposed the 2018 settlement, Ibrahim Bagudu and the US government "recently commenced preliminary discussions regarding a potential negotiated resolution to this matter," according to a motion filed by the US government to the district court on March 13.

The federal government had said it was mischievous to claim that it asked the United States to give $100 million from loots recovered from former military dictator Sani Abacha to Kebbi State governor.

"The Bagudu family assets in contention, which constitute a distinct and separate cause of action, do not have anything to do with the assets already recovered and being recovered under the Abacha 2014 non-prosecution agreement," a spokesman to the Attorney General and Justice Minister, Mr. Abubakar Malami, had said in a statement.

"It is therefore mischievous and pedestrian for anyone to seek to turn the law and the facts on its head on the matter of repatriation whose terms are clearly spelt out and agreed among the parties," the statement had added.

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