Nigeria may lose a princely N3.2 trillion, recently discovered as part of billions of dollars stashed away in foreign bank accounts by late military dictator, Gen. Sani Abacha. This fear is instructed by the intricate, complex hurdles set before the Federal Government team tracing the hidden funds by the countries involved.
A Special Investigation Panel (SIP) headed by a retired military officer in the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) had, about 10 months ago, launched a fresh probe into what has now become ‘Abacha loot’.
Saturday Sun had, in April this year, exclusively reported that the panel had uncovered fresh hidden funds in excess of $210 billion trapped in offshore accounts, which far exceeded the already established $5 billion looted by the late military ruler.
The report was confirmed last week at a ministerial briefing by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke who said the Federal Government recently confiscated the sum of £175 million from the Abacha family and associated companies in Liechtenstein, following a confiscation order by the Supreme Court of Liechtenstein just as another sum of £22.5 million was seized through the Royal Court of Jersey from Raj Arjandes Bhojwani, an Indian national and associate of the late head of state.
Meetings between the SIP team and a Switzerland -based lawyer, Enrico Monfrini hired by the Federal Government to assist in the recovery of the Abacha loot in foreign jurisdictions, had led to the latest discovery.
Monfrini is an Attorney-at-Law, Monfrini Grettol & Associés, Geneva, Switzerland. A source in the presidency, who is familiar with the progress of work already done by the SIP, however, told Saturday Sun that, “in truth, the looted funds have been successfully traced and identified, but the problem the panel is grappling with now is repatriating the money.
The jurisdictions where these monies are domiciled have set impossible hurdles for repatriation, especially the issue of obtaining a court order in the respective foreign countries.
Everyone knows that litigation in several countries may take decades because of many factors and aside, that can be a very expensive venture to undertake.”
The presidential source added that, “that is why we have our fears that Nigeria may never be able to get these funds back again and that obviously explains why the Justice Minister mentioned in his briefing you referred to that the £175 million and another £22.5 million cited as recovered funds will still need to go through some court processes before Nigeria can actually take hold of them.”
Indeed, the Minister admitted Thursday last week during his briefing that the companies involved in the Abacha loot have lodged an appeal against the attempt to recover the funds before the European Court of Justice in Strasburg, adding that as soon as the appeal is concluded, firm arrangements consistent with the asset recovery provisions of the United Nations Convention against corruption would be made to repatriate the forfeited sums to Nigeria.
A top security source also involved in the recovery efforts told Saturday Sun that, apart from the hurdles already set by foreign governments, the SIP handling the investigations and recovery with support from the office of the Attorney General of the Federation may be facing challenges of funding from the Nigerian government, as its work entails frequent trips to Europe and other countries.
“The work of the panel requires a lot of funding due to several trips needed to be undertaken to attend meetings and carry out other necessary assignments but it is becoming obvious that government may not be able to continue releasing the needed funds because of the recent challenges faced in accessing such. No one will really blame the government for this especially when funds are yet to be repatriated home to justify further trips.
Again, if this continues it will affect the work of the panel and ultimately the entire recovery effort, meaning that the country may as well forfeit the huge funds to these countries which are not really eager to let go in the first place”, the security source added. The source stressed that, “there is the need to educate the public on the double standard approach of most developed nations on the fight against corruption especially when it comes to repatriation of stolen funds back to developing and third world countries.
We can’t talk because the head of the panel is a strict senior military officer but we thank God that the AGF was able to give a hint of some of our problems with these foreign countries.”
Some of the foreign jurisdictions where the stolen funds have been traced include Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Jersey and the United States. One of the latest discoveries is the $550 million in a coded account in France. Saturday Sun had earlier reported that the Federal Government was encouraged to dig deeper into the Abacha loot following of a recent statement credited to the Swiss lawyer, Monfrini handling the case.
While giving further insight into previous efforts to recover the stolen monies, the lawyer was quoted to have said that: “Civil action was initiated by the Federal Republic of Nigeria before the High Court of London in May 1999. It resulted in the seizing of only USD 60 million in the United Kingdom.
The ‘full account’ given by the members of Abacha family were notoriously incomplete, notably in respect of their Swiss, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg assets, totaling USD 1.5 billion, which were entirely omitted. Less than USD 10 million of frozen assets been forfeited and recovered in the United Kingdom, none of which, was through civil proceedings.” Only the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo has been able to recover the highest amount of $1.25 billion from the Abacha loot.
The preceding regime of General Abdulsalam Abubakar and the succeeding government of late President Umar Musa Yar’Adua could not do much in this regard notwithstanding the efforts also made. Obasanjo recently gave an indication that much could still be trapped outside the country when he declared at a function in Delta State that “When I was president, I called the World Bank.
I said, please, give me the list of the amount that has been stolen, where is it kept and who the beneficiaries are. I never got anything from the World Bank thereafter. We have on our own decided that we will investigate and get from one family, Abacha family alone,” he revealed. “From the Abacha family alone, we recovered millions of dollars.
I got 1.25 billion dollars and the lawyer in Swizerland (he is still there), who was doing it for us, said, when I was leaving, that if we worked harder, there was still, at least, one billion dollars that we can get from that family alone.” General Sani Abacha had ruled Nigeria as a military Head of State from 17th November 1993 to 8th June 1998, when he died suddenly of a heart attack.
As a result, General Abdulsalami Abubakar became the head of state and within a short time, he re-established democracy in Nigeria, arranging for general elections that resulted in the emergence of Obasanjo assuming the presidency as the democratically elected leader of the country in 1999.
Before Obasanjo took office, Abubakar’s interim government had delivered a clear message that Abacha had looted huge sums, and they had to be restored. Members of the Abacha family and some of their accomplice then ‘voluntarily’ returned approximately $1 billion to the Federal Government.
It was also reported in our April exclusive story on the Abacha loot that while the latest discovery of the volume of stolen funds still trapped outside the country may appear as an indication of a breakthrough in the renewed effort to recover the looted funds, the sad news is however that Nigeria may never get the monies back through the legal means it has been following since 1999.
“In one of the last meetings before the SIP team stopped foreign trips on the case, the Nigerian government was told in plain term that it will be too hard to get the monies repatriated to the country through any court case or legal battles except through diplomatic negotiations with the foreign jurisdictions where these funds have been servicing their economies”, our source had added.
Efforts to speak with officials of foreign countries mentioned in the report for their reaction proved abortive. A text message also sent to the mobile number of spokesman of the British High Commission in Nigeria, Rob Fitzpatrick was equally not responded to.