Like U.S., UK kicks against Buhari govt’s plan to transfer $110 million Abacha loot to Bagudu

Kebbi State Governor, Atiku Bagudu
Kebbi State Governor, Atiku Bagudu (Photo Credit: Daily Trust)

Just like the United States, the United Kingdom is kicking against the plan of the Buhari administration to transfer $110 million stolen from Nigeria’s treasury by the late military dictator, Sani Abacha, to the governor of Kebbi State, Abubakar Bagudu, who was Mr Abacha’s main money launderer, recently obtained court papers have revealed.

In February, the U.S. government, according to a court filing, resisted the plan to transfer the money to Mr Bagudu and his family trust, Blue Holding Assets. PREMIUM TIMES reported how the U.S. had argued that a 2018 agreement between the Nigerian government and the Bagudus is a ploy designed to “wrest control of the proceeds of corruption away from the U.S and U.K courts so that $110 million can be secreted into the hands of one of the primary architects (Mr Bagudu) of the kleptocracy scheme.”

Recently obtained ruling from the U.S. District Court of Columbia revealed that the UK National Crime Agency (NCA) had not only obtained an order on behalf of the U.S. government to freeze the funds in Blue Holding trusts but it also filed an application before a UK court opposing the decision of the Buhari administration to transfer the money to the Bugudu.

“On July 2, 2014, the U.K. National Crime Agency (the “NCA”), on behalf of the Government, obtained an order from a U.K. court freezing the Blue Holdings Assets in connection with this litigation (the “Prohibition Order”).

“The NCA is opposing the FRN’s application and it remains pending before the U.K. court,” the court document stated.

Agreement between Nigeria and Bagudu

According to the 2018 Amended Agreement, Nigeria is “the legal owner of the relevant trust assets”. This effectively transfers the ownership of the funds held in Blue Holding companies from Mr Bagudu to Nigeria.

The 2018 amended agreement also stated that parties will use all “reasonable endeavours” to obtain a “variation” of the UK court’s prohibition order in order for the assets which is worth €141 million ($157.5 million), to be transferred to Nigeria, which effectively clears Nigeria of any liability of the breach of the 2003 Settlement Agreement.

The 2018 amendment then stated that having received the money, Nigeria will then send €98.5 million ($110 million) to an account identified by the trustees of Blue Family Trust, owned by the Bagudu family, thus allowing Mr Bagudu and his affiliates to have “peaceful enjoyment” of the money.

The parties (Nigeria and Mr Bagudu) to the 2018 Amended Agreement argued that the payment of the money would satisfy Mr Bagudu’s default judgement against Nigeria for breaching the 2003 Settlement Agreement.

But the U.S. argued that the 2018 Agreement, which was reached just seven weeks after the court had forfeited another Abacha loot related fund held by the Bagudu in another trust, serves to conceal the forfeited and remaining assets out of the United Kingdom and away from the court’s judgement and the arrest warrant placed on the assets.

Ibrahim Bagudu’s annuity

According to the court document, Ibrahim Bagudu, the elder brother of the Kebbi governor, is entitled to an annuity of $100,000 from income generated by one of the two Blue Holdings family trusts. The U.S. government, alongside placing a freeze order on the funds, had also sought to stop the payment of the annuity to Ibrahim.

However, the court had dismissed the request stating that as a director of the Blue Holdings family trust, Ibrahim was in fact entitled to the annuity.

“Government (U.S.) conveniently ignores the facts that, unlike Governor Bagudu and the other beneficiaries, Claimant has also served as a director of the trustee of the Blue Family Trusts and he, alone, receives a dedicated annuity. Thus, it is only right and proper that Claimant would file a claim to protect the trust assets. Rather than deal with these actual facts, the Government continues to refer to Claimant as Governor Bagudu’s “nominee claimant,” despite the Court’s ruling that Claimant has a cognizable financial interest in the Blue Holdings (2) Assets.”

The March 30, 2020 ruling also rejected the request to stop Ibrahim’s annuity on the ground that the 2018 Settlement Agreement between the Nigerian government and the Bagudus are not operable as they are prohibited by the prohibition order.

“Thus, while the FRN’s(Federal Republic of Nigeria) application is pending, neither the legal title nor ownership of the Blue Holdings Assets has changed. Nor will ownership of those funds ever change unless and until the U.K. court grants the variance to the Prohibition Order sought by the FRN.

“Unless and until a U.K. court varies or dissolves the Prohibition Order, it is entirely speculative as to whether the FRN will ever take legal title to the Blue Holdings (2) Assets pursuant to the 2018 Settlement Agreement. Therefore, it would be a complete waste of judicial resources for this Court to determine whether Claimant’s standing in this U.S. District Court case is impacted by the 2018 Settlement Agreement—an agreement between and among a sovereign state, its citizen, and three Singaporean companies that is governed by U.K. law and contingent upon a decision by a U.K. court—when its pertinent portions may never become effective,” the court ruled.

Settlement discussion

Court papers also revealed that while the US is trying to stop the Nigerian government to transfer the funds in Blue Holding to the Bagudus, it has also commenced talk to reach a settlement agreement with the Bagudus.

In a separate motion filed at the court, the U.S. requested a two-month extension of all expert discovery deadlines. According to the court papers, the U.S. made the request because of the ongoing uncertainty and widespread disruptions cause by the coronavirus pandemic and because it has recently commenced preliminary discussions for a potential negotiated resolution of the matter.

“The remaining discovery deadlines in this matter pertain only to expert discovery. On February 14, 2020, the Court granted the United States’ unopposed request for a one-month extension of the expert discovery deadlines. February 14, 2020, Minute Order. The current deadline to submit expert disclosures is March 26, 2020; rebuttal expert disclosures are due by May 8, 2020; and the deadline for the completion of expert depositions is June 26, 2020.

“On March 3, 2020, Claimant requested that the Parties postpone that deposition due to travel concerns in light of the coronavirus outbreak. The United States agreed to reschedule the deposition to a mutually agreeable date in the near future.

“Since then, there have been reported increases in the number of coronavirus cases, here and abroad, and institutions have taken an array of precautionary measures in response. Those measures, which have included school closures, travel restrictions, and telework directives, continue to evolve daily. Notwithstanding these disruptions, the Parties have commenced, and continue to engage in, preliminary settlement discussions,” the court stated.

Ibrahim, who is the main claimant in the case, did not oppose the request for the two-month extension.

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