Hundreds of millions of pounds stolen by the late Nigerian dictator General Sani Abacha and his entourage is stashed in bank accounts in London and Jersey, lawyers working for the Nigerian government claimed yesterday.
The money is allegedly in accounts belonging to some of Abacha’s close family and friends and some former members of his military government. It is thought to be part of an estimated £2bn systematically looted from Nigeria’s central bank during the dictator’s five-year rule.
Britain is not the only place where the money is stored – banks in Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai, the US, Liechtenstein, Switzerland and Luxembourg are also involved.
Authorities in Switzerland froze £430m-worth of assets belonging to the Abacha entourage at the end of last year, and yesterday prosecutors in Luxembourg sequestered around £420m in eight separate bank accounts.
A Swiss lawyer acting on behalf of the Nigerian government has contacted the Home Office with a view to freezing British bank accounts containing money linked to Abacha.
The Nigerian government wants this money, estimated at more than £300m, returned along with any evidence which can be used in a case against Abacha’s entourage. More than a dozen UK-based banks, some international and some British, are affected.
The British Home Office yesterday said that it would neither confirm nor deny that UK banks are holding Abacha money or whether an investigation into the matter is under way. However, Peter Hain, the Foreign Office minister with responsibility for Africa, has already pledged British support in recovering the money.
Abacha took power in a military coup in 1993 after the newly elected Moshood Abiola had been deposed by a rival general. He then dissolved political parties, banned demonstrations and introduced strict media censorship.
A period of fierce repression followed and in 1995 Abacha ordered the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa, the political activist who dared defy him, and seven others. Nigeria was then suspended from the Commonwealth. The general died of a heart attack in 1998.
“More than two and a half billion dollars was simply stolen as if from a cash register through a mixture of fraud, false contracts and commissions,” Enrico Monfrini, the lawyer acting on behalf of the Nigerian government, told the Guardian yesterday. “We are aware that there is more money out there than we’ll ever find.
“The longer we carry on the more we’ll find. It’s not just about money, it’s symbolic. The current government wants to show Nigerians and the world that Nigeria exists and is fighting corruption with all its might.”
There are, according to Monfrini, only two ways the Nigerian authorities can now proceed: Abacha’s entourage can either agree to the confiscation of all monies identified or the investigations will go on. Nigeria has already reclaimed some £530m-worth of assets taken during Abacha’s rule and is anxious to get more.
In a bizarre twist to the case Johnnie Cochran, the lawyer who defended OJ Simpson, has been brought in by the Abacha entourage to help them retain the disputed funds.
Andrew Osborn, The Mail & Guardian (South Africa), May 10, 2000
Categories: Africa, Nigeria, Odious Debts
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