Nigeria plans to hand $100 million to ruling-party official
Former dictator Abacha estimated to have looted $5 billion
Global pundits which includes U.S senators are requesting that the Nigeria’s Buhari administration should present a transparent account of how it’s used the received Abacha loot in the past as Ireland has reached a deal to give back to Nigeria 5.5 million euros ($6.5 million) looted by former military dictator Sani Abacha, Nigeria’s justice minister said in a statement.
The money is the latest Abacha-linked cash reclaimed by Nigeria. Corruption watchdog Transparency International estimates that Abacha, who ruled Africa’s biggest oil producer from 1993 until his death in 1998, stole as much as $5 billion of public money during that time.
He was never charged with corruption in his lifetime.
The return of these assets will be the first time that Ireland has taken such action and will be a concrete demonstration of Ireland’s commitment to international cooperation in the fight against corruption,” Helen McEntee, Ireland’s Minister for Justice and Equality, said in a statement.
Ireland froze the funds in October 2014 as part of an international operation that froze more than $1 billion worldwide, the statement said.
The agreement comes as Nigeria scrambles for cash to fill holes that have opened up in its budget as the coronavirus pandemic hammers oil prices.
The U.S. is opposing plans by Nigeria’s government to hand about $100 million the American authorities say was stolen by deceased former dictator Sani Abacha to a top ruling party official.
The disagreement may hamper future cooperation between the two nations to recover state money moved offshore by Abacha, who Transparency International estimates may have looted as much as $5 billion during his 1993-98 rule. A commitment by Nigeria to transfer the funds to Kebbi state Governor Abubakar Bagudu appears to undermine Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s pledge to quell rampant graft in Africa’s top oil producer.
The U.S. Department of Justice says Bagudu was involved in corruption with Abacha. The DoJ also contends that the Nigerian government is hindering U.S. efforts to recover allegedly laundered money it says it’s traced to Bagudu. Buhari’s administration says a 17-year-old agreement entitles Bagudu to the funds and prevents Nigeria from assisting the U.S., according to recent filings from the District Court for the District of Columbia in Washington.
Read a related article about the return of looted funds to Nigeria
“This case illustrates how complex and contentious repatriating stolen assets to Nigeria can be,” said Matthew Page, an associate fellow at London-based Chatham House and former Nigeria expert for U.S. intelligence agencies. “Instead of welcoming U.S. efforts, Nigeria’s lawyers appear to be supporting the interests of one of the country’s most powerful families.”
Successive Nigerian governments have sought to recoup the money looted by Abacha, who died in office, and have so far repatriated more than $2 billion with the cooperation of other countries, according to U.S. court filings.
In the case involving Bagudu, the U.S. in 2013 initiated a forfeiture action against a host of assets, including four investment portfolios held in London in trust for him and his family, according to the district court filings.
The DoJ said in a Feb. 3 statement that Bagudu, 58, was part of a network controlled by Abacha that “embezzled, misappropriated and extorted billions from the government of Nigeria.” Bagudu is the chairman of an influential body of governors representing the ruling All Progressives Congress.
Despite the forfeiture action being initiated following a Nigerian state request in 2012, Buhari’s government now says it can’t assist the U.S. because it’s bound by a settlement Bagudu reached with the administration of then-President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2003, according to the court filings.
Under the terms of that accord, which was approved by a U.K. court, Bagudu returned $163 million of allegedly laundered money to the Nigerian authorities, which in exchange dropped all outstanding civil and criminal claims against him “stemming from his involvement in government corruption,” according to a Dec. 23 memorandum opinion by District Judge John D. Bates in Washington D.C.
That meant “Nigeria renounced any interest whatsoever” in Bagudu’s trust assets, including those the U.S. is attempting to recover for the West African nation, the opinion stated.
Bagudu was able to return to Nigeria after concluding the settlement and was elected as a senator in 2009. Six years later, he was voted in as Kebbi’s governor in elections that brought Buhari and his party to power.