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Nigeria, US Agree On Return Of $308m Abacha Loot

Nigeria, US Agree On Return Of $308m Abacha Loot

Nigeria has recorded another major breakthrough in its efforts to recover stolen assets as the federal government signed a tripartite Asset Recovery Agreement with the United States and the government of Jersey.

Under the deal, the two countries agreed to return over $308 million of forfeited assets to Nigeria.

The money, according to a joint statement issued by the three parties, was laundered through the US banking system and then held in bank accounts in Jersey in the name of one of the sons of the late head of state, Gen. Sani Abacha.

The agreement was signed by the solicitor-general and attorney-general designate of Jersey, Mark Temple QC, Nigeria’s attorney-general and minister of justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN) and the US Department of Justice.

As part of the agreement, the parties identified three major projects the funds will be expended and also stipulated that it should be administered by the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) and independently audited.

The projects are the Lagos-Ibadan expressway, Abuja-Kano expressway and the second Niger Bridge.

It was also agreed that Nigeria will establish a monitoring team to oversee the implementation of the projects and to report regularly on their progress.

The federal government, in consultation with the other parties, will also engage civil society organisations (CSOs), which have expertise in substantial infrastructure projects, civil engineering, anti-corruption compliance, anti-human trafficking compliance, and procurement to provide additional monitoring and oversight.

Malami was quoted in the statement as saying that the agreement was a major victory for Nigeria.

The AGF, who left Nigeria on Sunday to negotiate the pact, was quoted as saying that “the agreement culminated in a major victory for Nigeria and other African countries as it recognises that crime does not pay and that it is important for the international community to seek for ways to support sustainable development through the recovery and repatriation of stolen assets.

“Without the commitment of the three parties to the agreement (Nigeria, Jersey and the United States) and that of the legal experts and attorneys representing Nigeria, it would have been impossible to achieve the success recorded today.

“As you are aware, the government of Nigeria has committed that the assets will support and assist in expediting the construction of the three major infrastructure projects across the country –  namely Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Abuja-Kano Expressway and the second Niger Bridge.

“These projects currently being executed under the supervision of the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) as a public private partnership (PPP) will boost economic growth and help alleviate poverty by connecting people and supply chains from the East to the West and to the Northern part of Nigeria, a vast area covering several kilometres with millions of the country’s population set to benefit from the road infrastructure,“ the minister stated.

Malami also urged for greater cooperation and mutual respect amongst the countries in the implementation of expeditious cooperation measures already set out in the United Nations Convention Against Corruption and in the implementation of the GFAR principles on the repatriation of stolen assets.

He further called on the civil society organisations and the Nigerian public to be involved in the monitoring of the implementation of the key projects to enhance road transportation in Nigeria.

On his part, Temple, who signed the agreement for Jersey, noted that the agreement represented the culmination of two decades of intensive work by law officers in Jersey, the US and Nigeria.

He disclosed that the return of the assets to Nigeria had been delayed by a number of hard-fought challenges by third parties which were defeated in the courts in Jersey and the US.

Temple said: “The agreement establishes a framework based on fruitful co-operation, trust and respect so that the forfeited funds can be repatriated to benefit the people of Nigeria, from whom they had been taken. The use of the funds will be subject to monitoring and reporting obligations.

“This is a very significant achievement, and, once again, demonstrates Jersey’s commitment to tackling international financial crime and money laundering,” he stated.

The deputy assistant-attorney, Brian Benczkowski, who announced the agreement on behalf of the US, said that “the Department is pleased to enter into this agreement with The Bailiwick of Jersey and the Federal Republic of Nigeria to return this enormous amount of stolen funds for the benefit of the people harmed by the corruption in Nigeria.

“Through the recovery of these funds – and this mutual agreement – the people of Nigeria can see the money they lost to corruption in flagrant disregard of the rule of law is returned through a lawful process, and in a manner that ensures transparent and accountable use of the funds.”

“This is a major achievement.  It also stands as a clear statement of our commitment to safeguard the United States from those who seek to launder the proceeds of corruption through the abuse of our financial system.” Benczkowski stated.

The statement further disclosed that „the funds were laundered through the US banking system and then held in bank accounts in Jersey in the name of Doraville Properties Corporation, a BVI company, and in the name of the son of the former head of state of Nigeria, Gen. Sani Abacha.

“In 2014, a US Federal Court in Washington DC forfeited the money as property involved in the illicit laundering of the proceeds of corruption arising in Nigeria from 1993 to 1998 when Gen. Abacha was head of state.

“This case is a result of extensive co-operation between the Jersey authorities, the Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section of the US Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Federal Republic of Nigeria, with crucial assistance from other governments around the world.

“At the time the case was filed as part of the US Department of Justice’s Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative in 2013, it was the largest American kleptocracy forfeiture action ever commenced.

“In 2014, the attorney-general of Jersey applied for, and was granted, a property restraint order over the Jersey bank account balance of Doraville.

“This was challenged in the Royal Court of Jersey and Court of Appeal, and an application for permission to appeal to the Privy Council by Doraville was refused.

“France and the United Kingdom (UK) restrained additional funds at US request.

“Gen. Abacha and his associates stole and laundered many hundreds of millions of dollars of public money during his military regime, doing vast harm to the futures of his own people. The monies were laundered by his family, including his sons, and a number of close associates.

“The laundering operation extended to the US and European jurisdictions such as the UK, France, Germany, Switzerland, Lichtenstein and Luxembourg.

“In 2018, the governments of Nigeria, US and the Bailiwick of Jersey commenced the negotiation of the procedures for the repatriation, transfer, disposition and management of the assets.

“The tripartite agreement signed this week represents a major watershed in international cooperation in asset recovery and repatriation, and will provide benefit to people throughout Nigeria.

The Role Of Jersey

“This is the largest single asset repatriation the Island has undertaken, and among the largest in the world, following almost 20 years of investigations and legal proceedings.

“This case forms part of the Jersey investigation into Abacha money laundering. Jersey took a leading role in the international investigations that began following Gen. Abacha’s death. It has already returned substantial funds (over $200 million) to Nigeria.

“Jersey issued an arrest warrant for the individual who co-ordinated a large part of the Abacha’s money laundering operation: Abubakar Bagudu, this resulted in his arrest in Texas and a number of jurisdictions with outstanding investigations into him delegating their prosecutions to Nigeria.

“Jersey was the only jurisdiction in the world to conduct a trial for money laundering in relation to the misuse of its financial system by the Abacha criminal organisation: Attorney-General vs. Bhojwani. That case was litigated in Jersey between 2007 and 2010 and Mr Bhojwani’s application to the European Court of Human Rights was ultimately dismissed in 2016.

“Jersey will retain $5 million in respect of its costs and expense in the recovery of assets and the US will retain up to $5 million in respect of its costs and expenses. The exact sum to be returned to Nigeria is dependent on matters such as additional bank interest accruing.

“However, it will be well over $300 million net of Jersey’s and the US’s costs and expenses.

“A further $18 million of assets has been paid into the Royal Court of Jersey pending resolution of a claim by a third party. These additional monies may potentially be available for payment to the US and Nigeria under the agreement in the future.

Role of the United States of America

“In November 2013, the Department of Justice’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section (MLARS) and the FBI filed a civil forfeiture action that alleged that approximately $625 million located in Jersey, France, and the UK was traceable to money laundering in the US involving the corruption of Gen. Abacha and his associates.

“This forfeiture action was the result of years of investigation and forensic analysis by the Department of Justice and the FBI, with valuable support and evidence from Jersey, Nigeria, the UK, France, Switzerland and other countries.

“In 2014, MLARS successfully obtained a forfeiture judgment against approximately $500 million of these funds, but efforts to enforce that judgment were delayed until 2018 when the federal appellate court in the District of Columbia definitively rejected the appeals of a third party who had unsuccessfully sought to intervene.

“In addition to the funds already recovered in Jersey, the US continues to seek assistance from its partners to enforce the remainder of this judgment against the additional $18 million in Jersey, as well as approximately $144 million in France and approximately $30 million in the UK.

“The US also continues to litigate to recover approximately €160 million ($177 million) placed into trusts that name Bagudu and his relatives as beneficiaries.

“The forfeiture complaint alleges that Bagudu, the current governor of Kebbi State, was an associate of the Abacha family who played a primary role in laundering corruption proceeds.

“The US has successfully obtained a second district court judgment forfeiting approximately $31 million of these assets located in the UK, which is potentially subject to appeal.

“Bagudu did not file a claim in the US proceedings, although his brother is continuing to oppose forfeiture of the remaining $136 million,” the statement read.

FG seeks speedy delivery of Super Tucano jets from America

Meanwhile, minister of Defence, retired Major General Bashir Salihi Magashi has charged the United States Government to ensure speedy delivery of the order  of Super Tucano aircraft for efficient military operations.

The Minister stated this when he received the USA delegation in his office in Abuja.

In a statement by the Director Press and Public Relations Mr Charles Nwodo, Major General Magashi commended the US government in her continued support to Nigeria in the areas of Health care and Military operations.

According to him, Nigeria has benefited from the US in providing equipment for the Nigerian Air Force, activation of the Charlie 130, supplying of air craft spare parts, training, educational and numerous health programmes.

He however, enjoined them to assist Nigeria in the speedy delivery of the acquired A-29 Super Tucanos aircraft for efficient Military operations in the country.

In her response, the USA Ambassador to Nigeria, Mary Berth Leonard reiterated that Pentagon is always ready to collaborate with Nigeria in combating insecurity, conflict management and precision in addressing human concerns.

She Urged the Nigerian Military to maintain professionalism by protecting human rights in their operations.

On his part, the American Defence Attache Colonel Andrew Clark requested for a regular joint military strategic meeting between the US and the Nigerian Military which will help in effective coordination of Military activities in Nigeria.

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