$550m Abacha Loot: Fed Govt Set To Clear Hurdles

Governor urged to withdraw suit

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”.

http://thenationonlineng.net/550m-abacha-loot-fed-govt-set-clear-hurdles/

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