To repatriate a $550million loot traced to ex-Head of State Gen. Sani Abacha, the Federal Government is to resolve two legal hurdles in the United States.
The hurdles are:
- an application filed before a court by Kebbi State Governor Atiku Bagudu and his wife; and
- an action by a United States lawyer, Godson Nnaka, who is fighting to have part of the money.
Besides, the government is seeking “political solutions” to the conditions set by the Swiss government for accessing the loot, The Nation learnt yesterday.
The Swiss government would like to monitor what Nigeria does with the loot, a development which the Federal Government considers as an affront on the country’s sovereignty.
Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami (SAN) and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Acting Chair Ibrahim Magu, who returned from the US on Sunday, were said to have made progress in “negotiating the last phase of the process for the release of the $550million”.
Pending legal cases in the U.S. by the two Nigerians and the conditions attached to the use of the loot have caused the delay in repatriating the $550million loot.
The U.S. insisted on the removal of the legal obstacles before it could invoke the procedure for the release of the funds to Nigeria.
Following likely loss of the $550 million, President Muhammadu Buhari has chosen to resolve the stalemate through “political solutions”.
A top source, who spoke in confidence, said: “The Federal Government is inching closer to the resolution of legal hurdles and the template for the release of the $550 million Abacha loot. We have spent close to 20 years pursuing the repatriation of these stolen funds; it is time to get over it.
The source added: “The government is trying to prevail on the Governor of Kebbi State, Alh. Atiku Bagudu and a U.S.-based lawyer, Mr. Godson Nanka to withdraw their pending matters in some courts in the U.S..
“The government has decided to plead with Bagudu and his wife, Aisha to withdraw their suit in the U.S., which is inhibiting the process of releasing the cash, which has been stashed in Switzerland.”
In the suit number 13-CV-1832 (JDB), Bagudu and his wife urged the court to reverse its judgment, which declared that the money attributed to them was illicit fund laundered into the U.S. and therefore forfeited to the American government.”
Relying on 18 USC 983 (a) (4) and Rule G (5) (a) of the Sup¬plemental Rules for Admiralty or Marine Claims and Assets Forfeiture Actions of the Fed¬eral Rules of Civil Procedure (Supplemental Rules), Bagudu said: “I have a claim to and interest in the property alleged to be subject to forfeiture in this action.”
“If we continue with this suit without a political solution, the $550 million will still be held up in the U.S..
“The President has asked AGF Malami to discuss with the governor and his wife to withdraw the matter in the interest of the country. I think Bagudu has agreed to do so.”
Also, a U.S.-based lawyer, Mr. Godson Nnaka, who was recruited in 2004 by the Federal Government to recover funds stolen by the late dictator, Gen. Sani Abacha, had instituted a case in a U.S. district court against the Federal Government.
He has asked the court to declare that he is entitled to 40 per cent of the recovered loot. He also pleaded with the court to make him the funds’ exclusive attorney.
“He alleged that he was excluded from the fund recovery case after spending much time and money in tracing the looted funds.
“So far, we have no choice than to negotiate with the counsel. This is another legal challenge which the U.S. is using to delay the repatriation,” the source said.
A government source also made some clarifications on why the U.S. and Switzerland were involved in the loot recovery.
The source said: “The looted funds originated from the US jurisdiction to Switzerland. Many U.S.-based banks or financial institutions were involved in the wiring of the funds. They include Chemical Bank, New York; Commerzbank AG, New York; Marine Midland Bank, New York (now HSBC USA, NA; Morgan Guaranty Trust Company, New York (now JP Morgan Chase); ANZ Banking Group, New York; Bankers Trust Company, New York; Barclays Bank, New York; Citibank NA, New York; and Chase Manhattan Bank, New York.
“About $321million of the cash is said to be stashed in some banks in Switzerland. So, tracking the assets is an intertwined challenge between the U.S. and Switzerland.”
Asked to be specific, the source said the government had signed a pact with Switzerland.
“The pact, which is titled a “Letter of Intent on the restitution of illegally-acquired assets forfeited in Switzerland,” was signed by Nigeria’s Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), and the Swiss Head of Foreign Affairs Department, Didier Burkhalter. The document reveals that $321 million acquired illicitly by the Abacha family was initially deposited in Luxemburg before being confiscated by the Swiss Republic Judiciary and Canton of Geneva following a December 11, 2014 forfeiture order.
“If the $321million loot is released, the total repatriation to Nigeria by the Swiss authorities will amount to $1.044billion in 12 years.
“The Switzerland government has released $723million to the country in the last 11 years.
“Well, as for the conditions set by Switzerland , the Federal Government regarded as an affront on its sovereignty. Some of the conditions include the use of the funds for projects that will benefit all Nigerians and that World Bank should “ supervise the spending of returned assets by the Nigerian government”.
The government submitted five project proposals to the Swiss government bordering on social benefit projects for the 2016 budget but the looted funds were not released.
The Federal Government and Switzerland last month signed an agreement on the return of the $321million.
A rights lawyer Femi Falana (SAN) had asked the Federal Government to reject the conditions attached to the repatriation of the stolen funds in a letter to President Muhammadu Buhari.
He said allowing the World Bank “to supervise the spending of returned assets breaches international law principles and standards”.