The Federal Government is currently reaching out to the World Bank to assist it in the repatriation of €185m (about $250m) allegedly stolen by the late dictator, Gen. Sani Abacha. A Liechtenstein court had in 2012 ordered the confiscation of the money recovered from companies linked to the Abacha family. Since then, the Federal Government had been fighting to recover the money without success.
A competent Presidency source confided in our correspondent on Thursday that the government decided to approach the World Bank for help when it became obvious that the Abacha family would not let go of the money.
He explained that after the government won a case instituted on the looted fund, the family of the late dictator filed an appeal at the European Court of Human Rights.
Our source said the government felt that the appeal was unnecessary and therefore applied to the State of Liechtenstein for the release of the money.
He said, “After the Federal Government won the case, the Abacha family appealed to the European Court of Human Rights.
“As a government, we felt that was not necessary and we made our position known to the State of Liechtenstein.
“They agreed with us but again asked us to bring sovereign guarantee which we also believe is unnecessary.
“That was why we approached the World Bank.”
The source, who did not want to be named, added that government suspected that the State of Liechtenstein was only interested in ensuring that when repatriated, the looted fund would be put to good use.
He expressed the belief that with the intervention of the World Bank, the money would soon be released to Nigeria.
“What the World Bank is doing is just to interface. In a very short period, the money will be released. “They are only trying to ensure that the money did not go through a recycle of loot. That means they want us to put it into good use,” he added.
The Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, had last October accused the State of Liechtenstein of using legal challenges as a pretext to cling on to the stolen money.
She had said, “We feel that the Liechtenstein people have been stalling for 14 years. They are just looking for excuses and I think this is where international civil society should mount pressure on these people.
“We’re asking, Why have they been keeping our money all this time? Fronting companies for Abacha family are trying to delay things and the Liechtenstein are hiding behind that.”
A Liechtenstein government spokesman was also at the time quoted as saying that the country was making efforts to return the money, but a complaint in the European Court of Human Rights brought by companies affected was still pending.
The Leichtenstein spokesman said one of the reasons the cases had dragged for so long was that Nigeria refused the examination of witnesses in its courts, as part of the procedure.
“We are looking at the possibility of returning the money ahead of schedule whilst still covering liability risks,” he had said.
It will be recalled that less than a week after President Goodluck Jonathan honoured the late Head of State with an award for “his contributions to the nation,” the United States ordered a freeze on $458m in assets stolen by him and his accomplices.
The Justice Department was quoted as saying that the corruption proceeds – stashed away in bank accounts in Britain, France and Jersey – were frozen at Washington’s request with the help of local authorities.
Abacha died in office in 1998, but his surviving relatives still include some of the richest and most influential figures in Nigeria.
According to a civil forfeiture complaint unsealed in the US District Court in Washington, the department wants to recover more than $550m in connection with the action.
“This is the largest civil forfeiture action to recover the proceeds of foreign official corruption ever brought by the department,” said Mythili Raman, the acting assistant attorney general.
“Gen. Abacha was one of the most notorious kleptocrats in memory, who embezzled billions from the people of Nigeria, while millions lived in poverty,” she added.