20 years on, Nigeria still chasing Abacha’s loot

Late Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha

ALMOST 20 years after the death of Nigerian leader General Sani Abacha, the country is still struggling to get the billions of dollars that he looted from state funds returned to Nigeria from Western banks, according to Ibrahim M. Magu, acting Executive Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

He said that Switzerland was yet to return over $300 million while $465 million in the US was “awaiting repatriation but mired in needless and opportunistic litigations”.

Speaking recently at Chatham House in London, Magu said: ‘Over $5bn is strongly suspected to have been laundered by the looters over time in the US jurisdiction.’ In the case of France, ‘over $2 billion is strongly suspected to have been laundered by past leaders, including Dan Etete, former Minister of Petroleum.’

In Jersey in the Channel Islands almost $300 million looted by the Abacha family was stashed there and, Magu said, ‘its urgent return is of utmost importance’ to Nigeria. He urged the government of Jersey, a self-governing dependency of the UK, ‘to assist in the return of the Abacha loot to Nigeria.’

Magu complained about the obstacles being put in the way by countries that were stashing the looted funds. ‘Burden of proof in grand corruption cases such as by the Abacha family should be reduced,’ he argued. ‘Demand in many confiscation proceedings that criminal origin of assets must be proven to the last cent is virtually impossible in many cases of grand corruption with complex diversions and dissipation of assets.

‘International cooperation in the identification of stolen assets and asset recovery is generally more effective than actual return of recovered assets. Developed countries undermine the UN Convention Against Corruption in asset return as opposed to asset recovery,’ Magu said.

‘However, Nigeria also desires unconditional asset return as equal priority with management of returned assets. Proactive action by receiving states to block proceeds of crime even before a request is made by victim country is important in winning the war against corruption because rogues may be the ones in power,’ he added.

In September 1999, under then President Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria launched legal proceedings in 10 foreign jurisdictions to recover the billions of dollars stolen by Abacha who died in 1998. Appeals on a number of these cases are still pending.

‘The slow pace of the Abacha loot recovery highlights the slow and complex nature of the international asset recovery process, which is costly and tedious, to the frustration of victim countries such as Nigeria,’ Magu said.
‘It is pertinent to state that these jurisdictions housing the illicit funds can do more by invoking legal sate power to accelerate the repatriation of stolen assets back to Nigeria.’

In the Abacha case, the Swiss authorities have returned just $721 million in the last 10 years. The funds had been allocated to the national budget to finance projects related to the then UN Millennium Development Goals. The office of Minister of Justice and Attorney General is in charge of recovering the Abacha loot while the funds stolen by others are being chased by the EFCC.

One human rights activist told Africa Briefing: ‘This Abacha case is a disgrace. It’s really a case of Western countries just paying lip service to the fight against corruption in Africa. How else can you explain this long delay in returning what are clearly stolen funds? Abacha was not a businessman so why did these countries accept such huge amounts from him and his cronies?

‘As usual, these countries are trying to claim the moral high ground by making pious statements about how the returned funds should be used in the interest of Nigerians? Why did they not tell that to Abacha and his gang when they brought the stolen funds to their countries in the first place?’


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