THEAttorney-General of the Federation, AGF, and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, on Tuesday disclosed that the government of Switzerland is ready to return in tranches the sum of $321m stolen from Nigeria and stashed there by the late former Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha, and his family.
Nigeria and the Abacha family had in 2014 reached an agreement for the country to get back the funds, which had been frozen, in return for dropping a complaint against the former military ruler’s son, Abba Abacha.
The $321m in question was initially frozen in Luxembourg and confiscated by Switzerland as part of criminal proceedings brought by the public prosecutor’s office of Geneva against Abba Abacha in December 2014.
The younger Abacha was charged by a Swiss court with money-laundering, fraud and forgery in April 2005, after being extradited from Germany, and later spent 561 days in custody.
In 2006, Luxembourg ordered that funds held by Abacha’s son be frozen. But Switzerland, Nigeria and the World Bank on Monday agreed in a Memorandum of Understanding that the funds will be repatriated via a project supported and overseen by the World Bank.
A statement issued by the AGF’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Salihu Isah, disclosed that his principal signed the MoU on behalf of Nigeria, alongside representatives of Switzerland and World Bank at the ongoing Global Forum on Asset Recovery in the United States.
Isah added that the Director of the Directorate of International Law and head of the Swiss delegation to the GFAR, Roberto Balzaretti, signed the MoU on behalf of the government of Switzerland and the Country Director of the World Bank office in Abuja, Mr. Rachid Benmessaoud signed on behalf the World Bank.
The Special Adviser to Malami explained that the MoU spelt out the modalities of returning the sum of $321m by Switzerland to Nigeria.
He said, the funds would be returned to Nigeria in tranches under a project known as “the National Social Investment Program” aimed at strengthening social security for the poor in Nigeria.
According to him, “The MOU stipulates that the restitution of funds will take place within the framework of a project known as the National Social Investment Program that will strengthen social security for the poor in Nigeria.
“The MOU also regulates the disbursement of restituted funds in tranches and sets out concrete measures to be taken in the event of misuse or corruption.
“The chosen solution for restitution is being undertaken by the three contracting parties as a partnership” in line with the objectives of Switzerland’s strategy to freeze, confiscate and return the illicitly acquired assets of politically exposed persons (asset recovery) which is based on the principles of transparency and accountability.
“It also allows the involvement of civil society in the monitoring of the restitution process. Furthermore, the return of these funds makes a concrete contribution to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and can set a good example internationally for future restitution cases.”
Malami expressed gratitude for the international support Nigeria was getting in the fight against corruption, adding that the global collaboration was critical to the success of the fight.
He explained that Nigeria was one of the four countries being prioritized for Asset Recovery assistance at this maiden edition of the Global Forum on Assets Recovery holding in the United States.
The statement added, “The signing of this MoU gives Nigeria visibility and will set precedence on the need for transparent management of returned assets internationally.
“The GFAR brought together experts from the field of asset recovery to strengthen international cooperation in this area.
“Nigeria will also use the opportunity of the GFAR meeting at the headquarters of the International Finance Corporation in Washington DC to negotiate the return of other assets and also engage in bilateral meetings with several other countries.”
Isah stated that the Nigeria’s delegation to the meeting was led by Malami.
The members of the delegation the Special Assistant to the President on Justice Reform and Coordinator, Open Government Partnership comprised Mrs. Juliet Ibekaku-Nwagwu; Nigeria/GFAR Focal Person and Assistant Director, Federal Ministry of Justice, Mrs. Ladidi Abdulkadir; a representative of the civil society organisations, Reverend David Ugolor, who is also the Executive Director, African Network for Environment and Economic Justice.
The delegation is expected to return to Nigeria Thursday.
Transparency International, a corruption watchdog, had stated that Abacha stole up to $5 billion of public money during the five years he ran the oil-rich country, from 1993 until his death in 1998.