US and Jersey Repatriate $308 Million to Nigeria

Published: 05 February 2020

Sani AbachaPhoto of Nigerian military leader and President Sani Abacha. Credit: African Success

By Eli Moskowitz

The United States Department of Justice said on Monday that it agreed with Jersey, a self-governing dependency of the United Kingdom, to return to the Nigerian government more than US$300 million former Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha stole and parked in Jersey after laundering the sum through the US banking system.

The former dictator seized control of Africa’s largest oil producer through a military coup on November 17, 1993, and held onto power until he died on June 8, 1998. Under his rule, the government funnelled billions out of Nigeria and used US financial instruments and bonds backed by the US to launder the money.  

The $308 million was recovered in Jersey. The province is considered to be a tax haven by organizations such as the Tax Justice Network, which ranks the country 18th in its Financial Secrecy Index.  

Jersey ultimately agreed to release the funds following a prolonged judgment that was part of a larger US civil forfeiture case initially filed by a Washington DC federal court in 2014, which uncovered more than $625 million around the world that could be traced back to Abacha’s corruption.   

The Department of Justice is now looking to proceed with its judgment that will go after other portions of Abacha’s fortune. According to its statement, $30 million is located in the UK, and over $144 million remains in France.  

“Today’s landmark agreement returns to the people of Nigeria hundreds of millions of the embezzled monies through a lawful process that ensures transparency and accountability,” said Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.

The Justice Department detailed that the recovered funds would go into a series of Nigerian public infrastructure projects that were previously authorized by its government. 

These are not the first assets linked to Abacha that have been returned to Nigeria. After Switzerland agreed to repatriate a reported $380 million in 2015, Dr John-Mark Iyi, a Nigerian academic stated that this was only a small piece of a much larger pie owed to the Nigerian people. 

“It would not be possible for African leaders to loot their national treasuries if there were no countries willing to receive these funds. If you preach transparency and accountability, you should not have the facility to transfer illicit funds to your own country.” He stated.