Mr Nicholas Hildyard, an expert on asset recovery, has advised the Nigerian government to be resolute in its quest to recover stolen money by politicians stashed in foreign bank accounts.
Hildyard, co-director, The Corner House, a global anti-corruption group, said this when he spoke at a conference on asset recovery organised by Human and Environment Development Agenda, (HEDA) in Abuja.
He said the stolen funds were usually not fully recovered and usually involved associated high cost leading to diminishing returns to the benefit of most Western countries who are the recipient of such sleaze funds.
He cited the case of funds stolen by the former dictator, Gen. Sani Abacha, regretting that it had taken Nigeria over twenty years – and millions in legal fees - for just a small proportion of $5billion or more looted by Abacha to be returned. He said even where funds had been frozen and recovered, some Western nations insisted on taking their share.
Citing geopolitical realities, Hildyard said Nigeria could request the US and UK for the hundreds of billions of looted dollars held in the West to be returned “but nothing, nada, zilch will come home without a fight.”
Hildyard said, “Will Nigeria get the full $267 million recovered from a bank account in Jersey? Not a bit of it. The monies will be shared with Jersey (which hid the money) and the US (which had a role in the recovery), and what is returned comes with conditions on how it can be spent.
“Of course, it would be a very different matter if the boot had been on the other foot. If American politician looted billions of dollars from the US treasury and salted away the proceeds in Nigerian banks, it is inconceivable that the US would have waited for over 20 years for just a small proportion of that looted money to be returned.
“The US would have mobilised every means at its disposal to force the speedy, unilateral, voluntary return of the funds. Sanctions would have been imposed. Visa bans executed. Pariah state status promulgated. You would probably even have had the sixth fleet weighing anchor off Lagos. And do you think for a moment that the US would have accepted Nigeria imposing conditions on the return of the funds? Of course not. On the contrary, conditions would instead have been imposed by the US on Nigeria’s banking system.”
He condemned the geopolitics and the gross imbalances of bargaining power that imperialism continues to create, saying they are just one of the obstacles that Nigeria faces in reclaiming what is rightfully hers.
He bemoaned the regulations in western countries that are supposed to prevent money laundering and enable the recoveries of funds are simply not fit for purpose.
He said though an estimated £36 billion to £90 billion in dirty money is said to be laundered through London every year, the number of banks convicted of money laundering in the last decade can be counted on one hand.
He added, “No senior bank executive has been jailed or prosecuted, unlike in some other jurisdiction, such as Denmark. The fines imposed are a fraction of those imposed in the US – the fine imposed on Coutts was 600 times less than the penalty that was levied by the United States on BNP Paribas. The UK government and the Financial Services Authority—now the FCA—successfully lobbied the US not to prosecute HSBC for money laundering.
“While the US has a better record for prosecutions, it also has a record of ensuring that the penalties amount to little more than a slap on the wrist.
“Neither HSBC nor BNP Paribas was barred from the American financial system following their convictions for money laundering. On the contrary, the prosecutors reportedly worked hard to limit the damage from the BNP Paribas guilty plea so that it could continue to function as a global bank. Despite promises to tighten up the system, little has been done.”