Nigeria secures final Abacha funds, but domestic asset recovery campaign misfires

THE Swiss government is to return to Nigeria $320 million allegedly looted from state coffers by the late Nigerian military ruler, Gen. Sani Abacha. The deal had been agreed in March, but there were legal complications over the return of the money, said to be the final tranche of billions of dollars of looted funds that Gen. Abacha had kept in Swiss banks.

In 2014, a court in Switzerland froze the money but Gen Abacha’s son challenged the ruling. However, earlier this month a deal was reached at the Global Forum on Asset Recovery (GFAR) in Washington and the funds will finally be returned to the Nigerian government. Over the last 10 years, as successive Nigerian governments chased the looted funds, the Swiss government handed over $700 million, with the outstanding $320 million to be returned over the next three years.

When President Muhammadu Buhari came to power in 2015, he made assets recovery and fighting corruption a major policy of his administration. But in the prevailing climate of an aggressive anti-corruption campaign, innocent victims have been accused of being party to corruption and some have taken legal action to clear their names.

Earlier this month, the High Court in Abuja dismissed claims of multiple money laundering charges and bribery of electoral officials against businessman Benedict Peters and one of his companies, Northern Belt Gas Company. The court ruled that the $60 million in campaign funds donated by Peters and his company to the governing People’s Democratic Party (PDP) for the 2015 presidential election did not constitute an infringement of the country’s electoral laws.

The court also heard that Peters bribed electoral officers $115 million to influence the outcome of the election. Peters, owner of Aiteo Group, which consists of one of Nigeria’s largest locally owned oil companies, denied the allegation, arguing that he did not violate any aspect of Nigeria’s Electoral Act. Justice Olukayode Adeniyi agreed with Peters and dismissed the case against him.

In order to deal with what he believes to be ‘unjustified media attacks based on unfounded rumours and prosecuted by some uninformed people’, Peters has instructed lawyers locally and internationally to handle allegations made against him and his companies.

Andrew Onyearu, Aiteo Group Executive Director and General Counsel, said in a statement: ‘the Group has been adversely affected by a litany of unsustainable unlawful developments affecting both reputational and commercial integrity in a manner that has negatively impacted its operations.

‘The Group can no longer allow this situation to continue and as such, has resolved to take steps to protect all its legal interests.

‘Recent positive – and ground breaking – outcomes from judicial interventions that we have achieved serve as clear pointers about the direction that we are now pursuing.

‘Increasing the successful utilisation of the judicial process in areas where we have been wronged will be the main objective of the team we have now put together,’ Onyearu added.

He continued: ‘Recently, our conviction in the infallibility of our judicial processes continues to be vindicated by judicial pronouncements deprecating the unjustified calumnious attacks on our business and personal outlook. Our respect for this process mandates that those who advocate positions on our behalf possess and demonstrate the type of world-class credentials that our lawyers clearly possess.’


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