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US Signs Agreement With Nigeria To Return Abacha Loot

Written by Zainab Sabitu

Nigeria and the United States government have reached an agreement on the return of over $23 million of the Abacha loot.

The agreement signing ceremony was held in the office of the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami on Tuesday.

While Mr. Malami signed on behalf of the Nigerian government, the U.S Ambassador to Nigeria, Mary Beth Leonard signed on the behalf of the U.S government.

According to Mr Malami, the fund when returned will be invested in three ongoing projects by the Federal Government, including the ongoing Abuja-Kaduna road and the 2nd Niger Bridge.

Nigeria has in the past recovered several other tranches of the Abacha loot, which are proceeds believed to have been diverted from public coffers by the military administration of General Sani Abacha in the 1990s.

In 2020, the US and Jersey also agreed to return over $308 million in confiscated funds to Nigeria.

In 2006, about $723 million in Abacha loot was returned to Nigeria from Switzerland.

The US, in a statement signed by its Department of Justice, said the latest tranche will increase the total amount forfeited to approximately $334.7 million.

“In 2014, U.S. District Judge John D. Bates for the District of Columbia entered a judgment ordering the forfeiture of approximately $500 million located in accounts around the world, as the result of a civil forfeiture complaint for more than $625 million traceable to money laundering involving the proceeds of Abacha’s corruption,” the statement said.

“In 2020, the department repatriated over $311.7 million of the forfeited assets that had been located in the Bailiwick of Jersey.

“Last year, the U.K. government enforced the U.S. judgment against the additional $23 million.”

“This repatriation of $23 million reflects the Justice Department’s unwavering commitment to recover and return corruption proceeds laundered through the U.S. financial system,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the US Justice Department’s Criminal Division.

The US commended the United Kingdom for its cooperation in recovering the assets.

“The complaint alleges that General Abacha, his son Mohammed Sani Abacha, their associate Abubakar Atiku Bagudu and others embezzled, misappropriated and extorted billions from the government of Nigeria and others, then laundered their criminal proceeds through U.S. financial institutions and transactions in the United States,” the US DOJ statement said.

“The United Kingdom’s cooperation in the investigation, restraint and enforcement of the U.S. judgement, along with the valuable contributions of Nigeria and other law enforcement partners around the world, including the United Kingdom’s National Crime Agency, as well as those of the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs, have been instrumental to the recovery of these funds.

The US also noted that the repatriated funds have been earmarked for specific projects to avoid mismanagement.

“Under the agreement signed today, the United States will transfer 100% of the net forfeited assets to the Federal Republic of Nigeria to support three critical infrastructure projects in Nigeria that were previously authorized by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and the Nigerian legislature,” the US said.

“Specifically, the funds governed by this agreement will help finance the Second Niger Bridge, the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and the Abuja-Kano road – investments that will benefit the citizens of each of these important regions in Nigeria.

“The agreement includes key measures to ensure transparency and accountability, including administration of the funds and projects by the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA), financial review by an independent auditor and monitoring by an independent civil society organization with expertise in engineering and other areas.

“The agreement also precludes the expenditure of funds to benefit alleged perpetrators of the corruption or to pay contingency fees for lawyers. The agreement reflects the sound principles for ensuring transparency and accountability adopted at the Global Forum on Asset Recovery (GFAR) in December 2017 in Washington, D.C., which the United States and United Kingdom hosted with support from the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative of the World Bank and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.”

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Zainab Sabitu

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