“General Abacha was one of the most notorious kleptocrats in memory,” a U.S. official said.
A week after President Goodluck Jonathan conferred an award for “Outstanding Promoter of Unity, Patriotism and National Development” on former Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha, the American Department of Justice Wednesday froze more than $458 million in corruption proceeds hidden in bank accounts around the world by the late dictator and his conspirators.
AllAfrica.com, a pan African news platform, reported from Washington DC Wednesday that a civil forfeiture complaint unsealed in the United States District Court in the District of Columbia “seeks recovery of more than $550 million in connection with the largest kleptocracy forfeiture action brought in the department’s history.”
The restraint of funds announced today includes approximately $313 million in two bank accounts in the Bailiwick of Jersey and $145 million in two bank accounts in France. In addition, four investment portfolios and three bank accounts in the United Kingdom with an expected value of at least $100 million have also been restrained, but the exact amounts in the accounts will be determined at a later date.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and Assistant Director in Charge Valerie Parlave of the FBI’s Washington Field Office made the announcement.
“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 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.”
“We will not let the U.S. banking system be a tool for dictators to hide their criminal proceeds,” said Assistant Director in Charge Parlave. “This action demonstrates the FBI’s ability to combat international corruption and money laundering by seizing the assets of those involved. I want to thank the special agents, financial analysts and prosecutors whose hard work over the years resulted in today’s announcement.”
The over $458 million in frozen funds and the additional assets named in the complaint represent the proceeds of corruption during and after the military regime of General Abacha, who assumed the office of the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria through a military coup on Nov. 17, 1993, and held that position until his death on June 8, 1998.
No mention was made of cooperation by the Nigerian government which last week, during the Nigerian Centenary celebrations, honoured Mr. Abacha as one of the 100 most astounding individuals that contributed to the country’s existence.
The award given to Mr. Abacha, whose regime was characterised by corruption, state-sponsored assasinations, and human rights abuses, has been condemned by several Nigerians. Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, rejected his own award, citing among other reasons, the award bestowed on the late dictator.