US Repatriates to Nigeria over $300m Stolen by its Ex-Dictator
The United States transferred US$ 311.8 million to the government of Nigeria, the Department of Justice confirmed on Monday, as part of a previous agreement to repatriate assets that traced back to the kleptocratic regime of former dictator Sani Abacha.
Abacha seized control of Nigeria, 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 U.S. financial instruments and US-backed bonds to launder the money.
The millions returned were recovered from Jersey, the largest of the English Channel Islands and a self-governing dependency of the United Kingdom that is considered a tax haven by organizations such as the Tax Justice Network, which ranks the jurisdiction 16th in its 2020 Financial Secrecy Index.
Jersey ultimately agreed to release the funds following a prolonged judgment that was part of a larger U.S. civil forfeiture case initially filed by a Washington D.C. 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 in February after authorities agreed to return the assets in February.
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.
“The agreement includes key measures to ensure transparency and accountability, including administration of the funds and projects by the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA), financial review by an independent auditor, and monitoring by an independent civil society organization with expertise in engineering and other areas,” the Justice Department news release said.
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 said.