Billions of dollars stashed away in foreign bank accounts by the late military dictator, Gen. Sani Abacha, may far exceed the already established $5 billion, as a Special Investigation Panel (SIP), tracing what has now become ‘Abacha loot,’ has stumbled on fresh clues indicating that the stolen funds still trapped in offshore accounts stand at over N3.2 trillion.
A competent source close to the panel, whose office is in the presidency told Saturday Sun that about four different meetings between the SIP team headed by a retired senior military officer and a Switzerland-based lawyer, Enrico Monfrini, hired by the Federal Government to assist in the recovery of the Abacha loot in foreign jurisdictions, had taken place outside the country in the last eight months.
Monfrini is an Attorney-at-Law, Monfrini Grettol & Associés, Geneva, Switzerland. The source, who preferred to be anonymous because of the sensitive nature of the subject, said: “In the course of the recent meetings between the Nigerian team and authorities in about four other jurisdictions as well as the team from the foreign legal firm, it was discovered that a lot of underhand dealings must have taken place in the recovery of the Abacha loot.
“This was largely responsible for the under-declaration of what has been recovered so far by three successive governments and worse still what is still trapped in offshore accounts, which, in our estimation, in our last meeting with our foreign team, stands at $210 billion.” Some of the foreign jurisdictions, where the stolen funds had been traced to include Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.
One of the latest discoveries includes a $550 million in a coded account in France. “It has been very difficult to get details out into the public domain so far because the latest process is being secretly coordinated by the retired senior military officer heading the SIP in the presidency and the Attorney General of the federation, who provides legal advice for the team,” the source added. The Federal Government was said to have been encouraged to dig deeper into the Abacha loot because of a recent statement credited to the Swiss lawyer, Monfrini, handling the case.
While giving further insight into previous efforts to recover the stolen money, the lawyer was quoted to have said: “Civil action was initiated by the Federal Republic of Nigeria before the High Court of London in May 1999. It resulted in the seizing of only USD 60 million in the United Kingdom. The ‘full account’ given by the members of Abacha family was notoriously incomplete, notably in respect of their Swiss, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg assets, totaling USD 1.5 billion, which were entirely omitted. Less than USD 10 million of frozen assets been forfeited and recovered in the United Kingdom, none of which was through civil proceedings.”
Only the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo has been able to record the highest amount of $1.25 billion from the Abacha loot. The preceding regime of General Abdulsalami Abubakar and the succeeding government of the late President Umar Musa Yar’Adua could not do much in this regard notwithstanding the efforts also made. Obasanjo recently gave an indication that much could still be trapped outside the country when he declared, at a function in Delta State: “When I was president, I called the World Bank.
I said, please, give me the list of the amount that has been stolen, where it is kept and who the beneficiaries are. I never got anything from the World Bank thereafter. We have on our own decided that we will investigate and get from one family, Abacha family alone. “From the Abacha family alone, we recovered millions of dollars. I got 1.25 billion dollars and the lawyer in Switzerland (he is still there), who was doing it for us, said, when I was leaving, that if we worked harder, there was still, at least, one billion dollars that we can get from that family alone.” General Sani Abacha had ruled Nigeria as a military Head of State between November 17, 1993 and June 8, 1998, when he died suddenly of a heart attack.
As a result, General Abdulsalami Abubakar became the head of state and within a short time, he re-established democracy in Nigeria, arranging for general elections that resulted in the emergence of Obasanjo assuming the presidency as the democratically elected leader of the country in 1999. Before Obasanjo took office, Abubakar’s government had delivered a clear message that Abacha had looted huge sums, and they had to be restored. Members of the Abacha family and some of their accomplice then ‘voluntarily’ returned approximately $1 billion to the Federal Government.
In 2002, the Obasanjo administration tentatively came to an agreement with the Abacha family to return another $1 billion out of the $1.1 billion that had been identified, traced and frozen, with the quid pro quo that the Abachas would be allowed to keep balance that had been assessed not to be of criminal origin. The arrangement was not well received by the masses.
Although the proposal caused a massive outcry for seeming to reward the theft of public funds, it was subsequently rejected by the late dictator’s son, Mohammed Abacha, who continued to maintain that all the assets in question were legitimately acquired. The highest sum that had in the past been traced to the family ranged from $3 billion to $5 billion, which includes money allegedly derived from misappropriation of funds from the Central Bank of Nigeria, bribes received from multi-nationals, among others.
The Swiss government last December said that it has so far returned to Nigeria the sum of $700 million stolen by the late dictator and deposited in several Swiss banks. The Swiss ambassador to Nigeria, Dr. Hans-Rudolf Hodel, had announced the figure at a media briefing in Abuja. In addition to freezing about $640 million, the Swiss judicial authorities handling the case have also indicted Mohammed Abacha and Atiku Bagudu under Swiss legislation regarding money laundering, fraud and taking part in a criminal organisation.
While the latest discovery of the volume of stolen funds still trapped outside the country may appear as an indication of a breakthrough in the renewed effort to recover the looted funds, the sad news is, however, that Nigeria may never get the money back through the legal means it has been following since 1999. “In one of the last meetings before the SIP team stopped foreign trips on the case, the Nigerian government was told in plain terms that it will be too hard to get the money repatriated to the country through any court case or legal battles except through diplomatic negotiations with the foreign jurisdictions where these funds have been servicing their economies,” our source added.
It was further gathered that the Jonathan administration is already contemplating the idea of checking the record of recoveries made under the coordination of a former National Security Adviser (NSA). As a result, the SIP was said to have recently interacted with a retired Deputy Inspector General of Police, DIG Peter Gana who worked with the ex-security adviser on the recovery of the Abacha loot with a view to getting certain clues needed for further probe.