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$2.4b looted funds traced to Abacha

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The Nigerian government traced $2.4 billion looted from its coffers to the late Military Head of State Gen. Sani Abacha, a former Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN), has revealed.

According to Adoke, Gen Abacha, who ruled Nigeria with iron fist between 1993 and June 8, 1998 when died, laundered the money through slush accounts, aided by his children and a brother.

The huge cash was stashed in accounts in Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, the UK, Channel Island of Jersey, France and Switzerland, as discovered by Swiss lawyer, Mr. Enrico Monfrini.

Adoke said the Abachas parted with $1.3billion but felt entitled to over $1 billion hidden in different havens in Europe.

Adoke made the revelations in his book “Burden of Service,” a copy of which The Nation obtained.

He said the family had virtually succeeded in blocking Federal Governments efforts at recovering quite a chunk of the funds until they were forced.

According to him, Gen. Abacha’s son, Mohammed, was a major stumbling block due to his uncooperative attitude after Gen Abdulsalami Abubakar, who took over from the late Gen. Abacha, initiated the move to recover the loot cash.

He accused the Abacha family of reneging on the agreement  to return the looted cash after ex-President Goodluck Jonathan was defeated by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015.

Adoke, who made the revelations in his book, “Burden of Service”, said the move to recover the funds was initiated by Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, who took over as military Head of State after the death of Gen. Abacha.

He said based on the terms of a Global Settlement Agreement entered into by President Obasanjo and the Abacha family in 2004, the Federal Government granted a “complete waiver” to the family to be able to get some of the looted funds back.

Twenty one years after the first move to recover the loot was initiated, the bulk of the money is still outstanding.

Excerpts from the book read: “The Abacha family thought they were smart, but they were smoked out by a very simple trick. They had virtually succeeded in blocking Federal Governments efforts at recovering quite a chunk of the funds looted by their patriarch, the former military ruler, Gen. Sani Abacha.

“Their attitude tended to imply that giving up about $1.3 billion of the loot was generous of them. Nigeria ought to have remained eternally grateful! They felt entitled to retain the rest of the loot to the tune of over $1 billion hidden in different havens in Europe.

They had acceded to returning the laundered funds, yet turned tail to orchestrate dodgy schemes despite the fact that the government had kept its part of the bargain. Alhaji Mohammed Abacha, the oldest surviving son of Gen. Abacha, was particularly uncooperative.

“Gen. Abacha, who ruled Nigeria from 1993 to 1999, laundered billions of dollars, mostly through European banks, with the aid of his children, a younger brother, and Senator Atiku Bagudu, the current Governor of Kebbi State. These were his fronts.

“Gen. Abubakar, promulgated the Forfeiture of Assets etc. (Certain Persons) Decree No. 53 of 1999. There was also a clause in the Decree that if assets not disclosed were later identified, the Abachas would forfeit them.

“In 2000, under the democratically elected administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo, the Federal Government engaged the services of Mr. Enrico Monfrini, a Swiss lawyer, to trace the looted funds worldwide, recover them and facilitate repatriation to Nigeria. In all, Enrico was able to trace about $2.4 billion to various accounts in Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, the UK, Channel Island of Jersey, France and Switzerland.

“More than half of the identified loot was returned to Nigeria, with Switzerland alone repatriating $500 million in 2005.

“As at the time I was appointed Attorney-General in 2010, over $1 billion was still hanging in various accounts across Europe as a result of the pranks being played by the Abacha family. We decided to redouble Nigeria’s effort: to recover the monies.

“Our first step was a holistic review of the strategies adopted by successive administrations since 1999 with a view to streamlining the process for greater efficiency. Then we mounted pressure on the Abachas and engaged with the various jurisdictions where the funds were stashed. Thereafter, we began to see results, despite the challenges. There was a significant increase, both in the quantum and rate, of recoveries.”

The book revealed how the $2.4billion was stashed in ten accounts and six investment portfolios linked to the Abachas in France, the UK, British Virgin Islands and the US.

Adoke said: “The UK assets to be repatriated, as agreed, were those held in HSBC Bank Plc in the name of Mohammed Abacha; those held in Standard Bank in the name of Standard Alliance Corporation/Mecosta Securities Inc.; and those held in Citibank Private Bank in the name of Navarrio and Morgan Procurement Corporation.

“Others included the Jersey assets, held in Deutsche Bank International Ltd, in the name of Doraville Properties Inc., and accounts at HSBC. In France, the assets were identified at Banque SBA SA in the names of Rayville International SA, Harbour Engineering and Construction Ltd and Standard Alliance Corporation. In Luxembourg, the assets were held by Caisse de Consignation of the Grand Duchy in the names of Rilke Ltd, Wambeck Holdings Ltd, Arwood Overseas Ltd, Larbridbe Trading Ltd, Venford Investments Ltd, Savard International Ltd, Junin Finance Ltd, Raw Material Development and Trading Company Ltd, Selcon Aluminium Products Ltd, and MM Warburg & Co. Luxembourg SA. Shares held by Caisse de Consignation were also identified.

Adoke said only Liechtenstein was reluctant to release €185 million located in its jurisdiction.

He added: “Liechtenstein gave us the biggest headache. It appeared to have developed cold feet over returning about €185 million located in its jurisdiction, which funds had been frozen by court orders since 2000.

“Investigators had established that €179 million of the sum was paid as a bribe by Ferrostaal AG of Germany, one of the largest steel traders in the world, to whom Gen. Abacha had awarded the contract for the construction of the Aluminium Smelter Company of Nigeria (ALSCON), Ikot Abasi, Akwa Ibom State. Mohammed and Abba, Abacha’s sons, mounted legal obstacles against repatriating the money to Nigeria.

“The Liechtenstein Supreme Court ordered its confiscation in 2012, but the Abachas appealed against that. The appeal was finally thrown out in March 2013. Still pushing their luck, they headed for the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, and effectively delayed the return of the money to Nigeria.

“Although everybody knew they would not win the case in Strasbourg, Liechtenstein hung on the excuse of the lawsuit to resist returning the money. That was understandable: Abacha’s loot was worth about 25 per cent of the country’s annual budget in 2013.

“To protect itself; Liechtenstein requested for Sovereign Indemnity, which was promptly signed by Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s Minister of Finance, in May 2013.

“Even though the indemnity was given, Liechtenstein still would not budge. They did return €75 million against which one of the indicted companies did not appeal. Other complex cases involving Senator Bagudu had also been concluded, and Liechtenstein had repatriated to Nigeria the sums of $65 million in 2003, CHF6.4 million in 2006, and CHF 1million in 2007.

“There was more drama beyond our expectations, though.  While Monfrini was working day and night to help us get the money back including negotiating asset sharing as part of the final resolution, Nigeria’s Ambassador in Bern, Switzerland, Ms. Fidelia Akuabata Njeze, suddenly showed up on the scene, insisting that she was the only person entitled to conduct the negotiations. That added to the embarrassment being faced by bath Nigeria and Monfrini, and possibly contributed to Liechtenstein’s reluctance in returning the money.

“I left the country along with retired Col. Bello Fadile from the Office of the National Security Adviser, for Geneva, Switzerland, on 27 May 2013 to deliver the Letter of Indemnity to  Monfrini and to finalize arrangements for the asset-sharing agreement with the Liechtenstein authorities.

“The new development forced us to abort the plan in order to give room for consultation with ex-President Jonathan. Ms. Njeze really threw a spanner in the works. We needed to rebuild confidence in the Liechtenstein authorities by clarifying who, in fact, should be involved in the negotiations. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs had to write to the Principality of Liechtenstein before we could make a move forward.

“Liechtenstein still stuck to their guns. We had to approach the World Bank Group through the efforts of Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, who had been a managing director at the Bank before joining President Jonathan’s cabinet in 2011.

“ We sought the help of the Bank to break the deadlock. The issue dragged on into 2014, despite high-level meetings between Nigeria and Liechtenstein under the auspices of the World Bank Group. I attended the meetings, along with Dr. Okonjo-Iweala. Liechtenstein initially avoided a high-level meeting until the Financial Times of London published a story on 10 October 2013 that seemed to paint the government as stalling. Even the subsequent high-level meeting did not prove to be the panacea we craved for.”

“We had earlier adopted that strategy of ‘constructive engagement’ with the British Channel Island of Jersey with much success. So, we thought Liechtenstein was going to cooperate too.

“Our approach in Jersey led to the successful prosecution, conviction and sentencing of Mr. Raj Arjandas Bhojwani, an associate of the Abachas, for money laundering offences. They got a confiscation order on proceeds of crime amounting to £265 million.

“I, thereafter, led a delegation made up of officials of the EFCC and Monfrini to St Helier, in Jersey, to negotiate an appropriate sharing agreement. We got £225 million repatriated to Nigeria while Jersey got £4 million as reimbursement for costs of investigation and prosecution. All parties left contented.

“Not so with Liechtenstein! It kept pleading the need to protect itself from liability in case Strasbourg ruled in favour of the Abachas. In October 2013, Dr. Thomas Zwiefelhofer, the country’s Deputy Prime Minister, forwarded a proposal to Dr. Okonjo-Iweala based on the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) treaty to which both Nigeria and Liechtenstein were State Parties. According to Article 57 of the Convention, Liechtenstein was required to return confiscated assets to the requesting State Party, in this case Nigeria.

“On the basis of that Convention, Zwiefelhofer stated that Liechtenstein was in principle willing to repatriate the assets forfeited to the benefit of Nigeria after deducting reasonable court and procedural costs.

“However, he said it was not yet able to do so because of the pending complaints by the various companies to the European Court of Human Rights. He expressed fear at the possible risk of “liability” and “just satisfaction” implications that might befall his country should the European Court for Human Rights rule in favour of the Abachas. He promised that Liechtenstein would repatriate the assets, after deducting costs, to the Federal Republic of Nigeria “quickly” if the Abachas lost the case but that the World Bank should develop solutions on how the recovery would be managed by Nigeria a veiled remark about the reported mismanagement of previous restitutions made to the country.

“The meetings and proposals were essentially a waste of time in the end; all motion without movement. With the Abachas seeming to have successfully frustrated our efforts at repatriating the €185 million loot, I pulled a joker out of the pack. And they were soon brought meekly to their knees.

“Based on the terms of a Global Settlement Agreement entered into by President Obasanjo and the Abachas in 2004, the Federal Government had granted a “complete waiver” to the family on the understanding that they would willingly return all the looted funds traced to them, their companies and their proxies.”

Adoke said after many legal battles with the Abachas, they agreed to repatriate their loot on  6 May 2014, when Mohammed’s lawyer  Abdullahi Haruna & Co., wrote to state that they had instructed their European solicitor to take all necessary steps to bring to fruition the implementation of the Global Settlement Agreement signed in 2004 .

They also withdrew the proceedings pending at the European Court of Human Rights.

He said: “That was a major victory for Nigeria. It came 14 years after these assets had been frozen by court orders. The journey had been exasperating and frustrating.

“Still, the Government of Liechtenstein would not make things easy. They did not release the money without putting up stiff resistance. They came up with one condition after the other. They insisted they needed to know how we were going to spend the money. After a series of tripartite meetings involving the World Bank’s Stolen Asset Recovery Unit, an agreement was reached and the first tranche of about $242.2 million was finally paid to Nigeria.

“We signed a Repatriation Agreement dated 14 July 2014, to put a legal seal on all the assurances of cooperation between the Federal Government and the Abacha Family in furtherance of the common objective of ensuring quick resolution of the lingering dispute and the recovery of the outstanding assets. The Abachas undertook to cooperate fully in the legal proceedings to recover the outstanding assets in Luxembourg, the UK and the US.”

But, he said the Abachas  started reneging on the agreement after ex-President Goodluck Jonathan was defeated by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015.

He said: “Following President Jonathan’s defeat in the 2015 general election, the Abachas began to renege on the agreement they entered into.

“They probably reckoned that the Buhari government would be less fussy about the Abacha loot. In February 2015, the Government of Jersey had reached out to the Nigerian High Commissioner to the UK, Dr. Dalhatu Tafida, to request a meeting to discuss the funds they were preparing to repatriate to Nigeria.

“The amount involved was $313 million. We held a meeting in Jersey on 27 Apri12015, but I came out of it disappointed.”

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