by Bassey Udo
For allegedly helping their father plunder Nigeria of an estimated $5 billion in the 1990s, Mohammed and Abba Abacha, and other relatives of the late dictator, Sani Abacha, have been rewarded by the Nigerian government.
A secret deal between the government and the Abachas, wants the family to return part of the loot, in exchange for perpetual immunity against prosecution.
The deal, kept classified for months, was personally approved by President Goodluck Jonathan in July 2014, and jointly authored by the Attorney General, Mohammed Adoke.
The terms of the agreement, obtained by PREMIUM TIMES in March, have alarmed anti-corruption activists.
“The agreement is (also) a tragic triumph of impunity,” said The Berne Declaration, a Swiss nongovernmental organization, which for years has monitored efforts by the Nigerian government to recover hundreds of millions of dollars stashed by the former military ruler, and his family, in bank accounts across Europe, and America.
The agreement closes criminal proceedings for the plundering of the Nigerian treasury against the perpetrators and their accomplices, with the result that they go unpunished.
Foreign banks involved in the heist have also not been convicted of money laundering.
Worse, Swiss lawyers and other attorneys who helped facilitate the so-called out-of-court settlement, will pocket fees up to five per cent of all monies recovered from the family from banks in Switzerland and other countries. The government expressly agreed to pay one of the attorneys $28 million.
“This is all the more troubling because many of the banks involved have not been convicted of money laundering. It is equally incomprehensible that the Swiss lawyers involved may pocket up to 7 percent of the sum for their services, as this money belongs to the Nigerian population,” Berne Declaration said.
The base of the agreement is for the Abacha family to cooperate with federal authorities to have the stolen funds repatriated, in exchange for clemency.
On receipt of the assets, Nigeria will “end any and all legal proceedings and investigations against the settling parties (referring to the Abacha family)”.
The government will “recognise” properties owned by the family in Nigeria, the agreement says.
“The FRN (Federal Republic of Nigeria) will withdraw any and all civil proceedings against the settling parties,” one clause in the agreement states.
Another clause says, “The FRN will end, without any finding of liability or guilt, any and all proceedings of whatever kind including criminal, civil or administrative proceedings contemplated or pending in any court in Nigeria (including in relation to forfeiture and or restraint) relating to or arising out of any investigations into the resolved matter, …”.
“The FRN will provide to any government, authority or organisation, where necessary, information, clearance or such other documentation or support as may be required by any or all of the Settling Parties to ensure and guarantee unrestricted movement in and out of Nigeria or in any other state or country,” another clause adds.
As Nigeria’s military leader between 1993 and 1998, Mr. Abacha stashed away billions of dollars of public funds in various accounts abroad.
Transparency International estimates $5 billion was stolen.
The money include those in three accounts at HSBC Bank Plc, one in Standard Bank Plc in England; five accounts in Cítibank Private Bank of London; one account in Deutsche Bank International Ltd, in Jersey, United States; three accounts in Banque SBA SA and one in Standard Alliance Corporation in France.
There are also funds in nine accounts in Luxemburg and Liechtenstein totaling about $248.64 million and Euros179.14 million, which was transferred to the Bank for International Settlements (BI) in 2014.
In June 2014, Liechtenstein agreed to return $227m, while the U.S. froze some $458m hidden by Abacha in bank accounts.
Switzerland had earlier returned some $700m. By March 2015, the country agreed to return a further $380m.
The recovery of the money had been blocked by legal action brought by companies linked to members of the Abacha family.
The government’s initial charges against Abacha’s oldest son, Mohammed Abacha, was for unlawfully receiving government money from his father. Read full on PT