Nigeria: Abacha Loot - Nigerian Govt Disagrees With U.S. Senator's Move Against Funds Return

(file photo).

The federal government has refused an attempt by United States lawmaker, Chuck Grassley, to block the repatriation of $320m laundered by the late military dictator, Sani Abacha.

Mr Grassley, who is the highest ranking senator in the US, had questioned the Department of Justice why the US was returning such funds to Nigeria.

The senator had said the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration has a high record of human rights violations and thus such funds should not be returned to Nigeria.

In the letter dated April 1 and addressed to Deborah Connor, who is Chief Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section of the Department of Justice (DOJ), Mr Grassley made reference to a Bloomberg report which exposed Nigeria's arrangement with the governor of Kebbi State, Atiku Bagudu, who helped Mr Abacha launder billions of naira.

Part of the letter reads; "In 2014, the Isle of Jersey, a British dependency seized more than $320m laundered by the corrupt former dictator of Nigeria, General Sani Abacha. After a long legal battle, the Isle of Jersey and the United States have entered into an agreement to repatriate this money back to Nigeria in the coming months.

"Yet, according to a recent Bloomberg article, the current Nigerian government is refusing to help the US Department of Justice finalise a second forfeiture action against a separate $100m in Abacha loot.

"In addition to this lack of cooperation, if Nigeria did receive the second batch of funds, it intends to return the money to an official who DOJ says was involved in corruption with Abacha."

The senator also said the Buhari-led government also perpetrated the abuse of human rights.

"There are also serious human rights concerns. Under President Muhammadu Buhari's government, Nigerians face violations undermining freedom of religion, freedom of speech, due process, and the rule of law.

"In late December, the US State Department labelled Nigeria a severe violator of religious freedom.

"The Buhari government's own agencies have also abused the civil liberties of innocent Nigerian citizens. Last December's re-arrest and detention of a US green card-holding journalist is just the latest high profile example.

"The re-arrest and detainment of New Jersey resident, Omoyele Sowore, just one day after he was released by a judicial court, is a clear testament to its glaring contempt of judicial opinion and the rule of law. Mr Sowore, an activist journalist and former political opponent of President Buhari, is still being detained, a blatant transgression of international norms."

Mr Grassley accused the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, and the Chairman, Economic Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, of being agents of oppression of Mr Buhari's political opponents.

Denial

Reacting in a statement on Wednesday by his spokesperson, Umar Gwandu, the AGF said the accusations were baseless.

Mr Malami said, "The evidence on the ground establishes that the Federal Government's operations in the fight against corruption are carried out without fear or favour."

The AGF also added that members of the ruling or opposition parties and otherwise are in no way spared in view of numerical data of recorded judicial convictions."

The justice minister further noted that the federal government has not entered into any agreement to concede any fund to any individual in relation to over $300m to be repatriated to Nigeria from the Island of New Jersey.

Mr Malami stated that the federal government was exclusively bound by the tripartite agreement entered into and signed by the Federal Government of Nigeria, United States of America and Island of Jessy for the repatriation of over $300m funds referred to as Abacha III.

He added that no individual was named to be a beneficiary of any amount in the tripartite agreement.

"Malami said the international community has developed confidence in the present administration in view of the fact that looted funds recovered by the President Muhammadu Buhari's led administration, before now, were judiciously utilized for high-impact public oriented projects.

"He said in the document of the agreement, it was clearly spelt out that the monies will be utilized in the Abuja-Kano and Lagos - Ibadan Express ways as well as the 2nd Niger Bridge only and the insinuation of third-party beneficiary outside the scope of the agreement is, therefore, baseless and unfounded.

"The Minister said Nigeria has no reputational issue over enforcement of agreements and treaties and it is, therefore, an impossibility and unimaginable for Nigeria to hand over some amount of money to a third party not expressly mentioned in the agreement after the three countries concerned signed an agreement on what to do with the repatriated funds."

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