Nigeria is committed to a deal that would help Kebbi State Governor, Atiku Bagudu, keep over $100 million from funds stolen by late kleptocrat, Sani Abacha, according to court documents reported by Bloomberg, putting cooperation with the United States over Abacha loot recovery at risk.
The deal was first negotiated in 2003 under the former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, and then updated in 2018 under President Muhammadu Buhari, whose administration now reportedly insists on not backing recovery efforts against Mr Bagudu
Mr Bagudu was one of Mr Abacha’s bagman, using phoney companies to siphon and move stolen funds across transnational borders, when the kleptocrat ruled Nigeria between 1993 and 1998. He spent six months in a U.S. federal prison in 2003, while awaiting extradition to British dependent Jersey to answer questions relating funds traced to the account of Doraville Properties Corp, a company he controlled alongside Mohammed Abacha, to stash stolen money abroad.
But before he was handed over to authorities at Jersey, Mr Bagudu quickly negotiated a deal with the U.S. and Jersey authorities to “return more than $163 million of the allegedly laundered assets to Nigeria in exchange for Jersey’s withdrawal of the extradition request and his return to Nigeria,” according to a court document previously reported by PREMIUM TIMES.
The 2003 deal was approved by a United Kingdom court, Bloomberg now reports, referencing a December 23 memorandum opinion by a Washington D.C. judge John Bates. In exchange for the money forfeited by Mr Bagudu under the 17-year old deal, Nigeria would not file any civil and criminal claims against him over “his involvement in government corruption,” according to the reported court document.
The implication: “Nigeria renounced any interest whatsoever” in Mr Bagudu’s trust assets, including those America wants to help the African nation recover, the court opinion reportedly stated.
Mr Bagudu then returned to Nigeria first to become a senator and then a governor of Kebbi State in Nigeria’s north.
American court filings reportedly showed Mr Bagudu successfully sued the Nigerian government in 2018 for violating the 2003 deal. Then, the administration of Mr Buhari entered into an updated deal with the Kebbi governor, who like the president is a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress.
The updated deal requires a transfer of ownership of investment portfolios, worth 141 million euros ($155 million) to Nigeria, which would then pay 98.5 million euros ($106 million or N38.5 billion) to Mr Bagudu and his affiliates, according to the Washington judge’s opinion cited by Bloomberg.
The deal has since not been executed as the UK blocked the funds transfer following America’s request.
Notwithstanding, Nigeria reportedly insists it is bound by the updated 2018 deal and would not “assist” America in Mr Bagudu’s case.
Bloomberg reports that American officials are opposing the deal meant to help Mr Bagudu a part of the illicit funds.
Nigeria’s justice minister, Abubakar Malami, did not respond to requests for comment on this report, nor did Mr Bagudu. Mr Bagudu has consistently shunned PREMIUM TIMES’ repeated requests for his comment on our reporting of his role in helping Mr Abacha move stolen funds offshore.
The moves to recover the stolen funds linked to the Abacha junta started just after Mr Obasanjo got to the office in 1999. In April 2002, the Abacha family returned $1 billion to Nigeria in a deal which involved the Swiss Federal Office of Justice. The deal allowed the family to keep $100 million and required the government to drop “some criminal charges” against Mohammed, Mr Abacha’s son, New York Times reported then.
In 2006, another $723 million Abacha loot was returned to Nigeria from Switzerland but the use of the recovery was largely unaccounted, Transparency International said.
“That past experience led Switzerland to controversially attach conditions to the repatriation of this batch of Abacha loot (US$322 million in 2018), including third party oversight – meaning that the World Bank will now monitor the distribution of the funds,” reported Transparency International.
Nigeria has also recovered other tranches of Abacha loot, including the latest, US$308 million, laundered by Kebbi governor, Mr Bagudu, from Jersey.
Mr Abacha was a notorious kleptocrat and is listed alongside Indonesia’s Suharto and Mobutu Seko of Zaire (now DR Congo) among the worst state official thieves in the world by Transparency International. It is estimated that Mr Abacha stole between three billion and five billion dollars, most from Nigeria’s oil wealth.