“General Abacha was one of the most notorious kleptocrats in memory, who embezzled billions from the people of Nigeria while millions lived in poverty.”
Despite its inability to adequately explain how the more than $500 million Sani Abacha loot recovered from Swiss authorities was spent, the Federal Government has filed an application at a Washington DC District Court requesting that another $500 million (N75 billion) stolen by the late military dictator, recently frozen by the United States Department of Justice, be repatriated to the country.
In February, the Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, said the money recovered from Switzerland was used for rural development projects but failed to name specific projects the money was used for.
On March 6, 2014, the American Department of Justice announced the freezing of the asset of the late Abacha stashed in various accounts in the U.S. and around the world. The loot was described as the “largest kleptocracy forfeiture action” in the department’s history in a civil forfeiture action brought before the DC District court.
“General Abacha was one of the most notorious kleptocrats in memory, who embezzled billions from the people of Nigeria while millions lived in poverty,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General, Mythili Raman.
“This is the largest civil forfeiture action to recover the proceeds of foreign official corruption ever brought by the department. Through our Kleptocracy Initiative, we are seizing the assets of foreign leaders who steal funds that properly belong to the citizens they serve. Today’s action sends a clear message: we are determined and equipped to confiscate the ill-gotten riches of corrupt leaders who drain the resources of their countries,” said Mr. Raman.
In the Asset Forfeiture action, the Federal Government through its counsel, Godson Nnaka and Jude Ezeala, asked the court to “enter a decree ordering the forfeiture of the defendant [Abacha] property to the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
They also want the court to “grant an order of forfeiture for liquidation of all forfeited/seized assets/defendant property and conversion of all proceeds to liquid fluids denominated in the United States dollar.”
Further, the counsel asked the court to “enter an order directing the immediate return and transfer of the defendant property, in liquidated proceeds denominated in United States currency bank to Nigeria less Attorney fees, cost and expenses.”
Quoting the World Bank, the counsel argued that 70 per cent of Nigeria’s 170 million people are “extremely poor people.”
“For the most part of its history, Nigeria has been ruled by a string of brutal military dictators who oppressed the citizens, suppressed all forms of dissent or opposition and systematically institutionalised graft and corruption in the country.”
How the money was stolen
According to court documents, some of the money was stolen directly from the Central Bank of Nigeria through a fraudulent security vote perpetrated through letter requests from Mr. Abacha’s National Security Adviser, Aliyu Gwarzo, with the help of the late dictator’s son, Mohammed Abacha, and his close associate Atiku Bagudu.
Mr. Bagudu is currently a senator of the ruling People’s Democratic Party and represents Kebbi Central Senatorial District. Though currently standing trial over his involvement in the fraud, Mr Bagudu was recently appointed to head a probe panel into the Nigerian Immigration Service recruitment scandal.
A document filed by the United States Department in the District and Bankruptcy Courts for the District of Columbia, quoted by the Nation Newspaper, gives a comprehensive detail of how the money was stolen from the CBN and the role of Union Bank and defunct Inland Bank in transferring the stolen funds to accounts operated by Mr. Abacha across the world:
“Abacha together with Mohammed Sani Abacha, Bagudu and others, systematically embezzled public funds worth billions of dollars from the CBN on the pretext that the funds were necessary for national security.
“After causing the CBN to release the funds, often in cash, Gen. Abacha and Bagudu then moved the funds overseas, including through US financial institutions (the Security Votes Fraud).
“Over 60 false security votes letters were addressed to and endorsed by Gen. Abacha, each of which resulted in the withdrawal of Nigeria’s public funds from the CBN.
“Subsequently, the funds were deposited into accounts controlled by, or used to purchase assets for the benefit of, Gen. Abacha, Bagudu or other members of the conspiracy.”
“The conspirators transported the proceeds of the Security Votes Fraud out of Nigeria to accounts in Europe that were under the conspirators’ private control, including the Rayville and Standard Alliance accounts at Banque SBA, the Eagle Alliance and Mecosta accounts at ANZ (London) and the Mecosta account at Standard Bank as described below.
“The CBN staff and other individuals known and unknown to the United States generally would deliver the currency stolen with the security votes letters to Gwarzo at his residence.
“Gwarzo and others acting at his discretion would repackage the currency in secure bags and then deliver it to Gen. Abacha at his residence in Abuja, Nigeria.
“Gen. Abacha or those acting at his direction, delivered more than $700 million of these funds to Mohammed Abacha in bags or boxes full of cash.
“Mohammed Abacha gave the cash he received to Bagudu, who later arranged for the money to be transferred to accounts controlled by Bagudu and Mohammed Abacha in foreign countries.
“Transfers included deposits into accounts in the name of defendants Mecosta, Doraville, Standard Alliance, and Rayville, as well as Eagle Alliance and Harbour Engineering.
“In order to move the money overseas, Bagudu deposited the cash proceeds of the Security Votes Fraud into at least one of two Nigerian commercial banks, Union Bank of Nigeria and/ or Inland Bank of Nigeria.”
“Bagudu and/or Mohammed Abacha then instructed Union Bank or Inland Bank to transfer the stolen funds to other accounts under Bagudu or Mohammed Abacha’s control, such as accounts in the name of Mecosta, Rayville and Eagle Alliance.
“Inland Bank or Union Bank made the necessary arrangements to transfer the money overseas. The funds were transferred from Union Bank or Inland Bank back to the CBN to an account held by Union Bank or Inland Bank at the CBN.
“The CBN then transferred the funds from the account of Union Bank or Inland Bank to their respective overseas domiciliary accounts held at banks in either London or New York.
“The specific London or New York account varied depending on which Nigerian commercial bank had been used in the first instance.
“Through these “cash swaps,” at least $137million was transported into and out of the United States, and into accounts held in the name of the defendant corporations.”
Debt buy-back scam
Mr. Abacha also devised a dubious debt buy-back scam to fleece the country of more than $282 million an affidavit filed by the Federal Government’s counsel shows.
“General Abacha in association with his son “Mohammed Abacha, Bagudu and others defrauded Nigeria of more than $282 million by causing the government of Nigeria to repurchase Nigeria’s par debt from one of his companies for more than double what Nigeria would have paid to repurchase the debt in open market. In this fraudulent flipping of Nigerian debt’s the Central Bank of Nigeria paid and was defrauded the following: (a) $141,253,333 paid or transferred to defendant property on or before April 15, 1997; (b) $141,253,333 paid or transferred to defendant property on or before April 22, 1997.”
The counsel, therefore, argued that: “from the foregoing, the conclusion is inescapable that Nigeria is the innocent owner of the funds laundered by defendant corporate entities and therefore entitled to the return of the funds and the interests generated there from.”
Ironically, the Federal Government recently honoured Mr. Abacha, posthumously, with an award for “Outstanding Promoter of Unity, Patriotism and National Development.”