Another $100m being withheld
A $458 million loot by the late former Head of State, Gen. Sanni Abacha and which the United States government planned to return to the Federal Government will not come now.According to the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), the money is being held back because a lawyer is insisting he be paid for representing the government in the suit that led to the forfeiture of the loot.
But another $100 million is being held because individuals associated with Kebbi State governor, Atiku Bagudu, are contesting the forfeiture. A statement from the minister’s office signed by his spokesman, Mr. Salihu Othman Isah, revealed: “The forfeiture of the remaining $100 million in assets is still pending. The forfeiture of these assets is being contested by certain individuals, who are related to Atiku Bagudu (General Abacha’s associate) and who claim that these assets are the subject matter of a private family trust.”
The statement which was issued to debunk a media report (not in The Guardian) over how the money was stuck abroad, gave a detailed explanation of how forfeited funds to the U.S. government are returned to owners.
“The United States Department of Justice (USDOJ), which is akin to Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Justice), launched a Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative which is spearheaded by the USDOJ’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section (AFMLS). It comprises a competent team of attorneys, investigators and other experts dedicated to investigating and prosecuting asset recovery cases, recovering stolen assets and returning the same to those victimised by corruption. Since 2004, the USDOJ has confiscated and returned over $168 million to victims abroad.
“Under United States law, asset forfeiture (or confiscation) works in the following manner. The USDOJ identifies stolen and corruptly-obtained assets. It then institutes legal proceedings known as forfeiture proceedings to confiscate such assets. At the end of the forfeiture proceedings, the court orders the assets confiscated to the United States. Thereupon, the United States returns the assets to the foreign country from which the assets were stolen.
“In 2013, as part of its Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative, the USDOJ commenced a forfeiture proceeding to confiscate approximately $550 million that had been corruptly obtained by the late Abacha and his associates (the ‘Abacha Case’).
“A portion of the Abacha loot, valued at $458 million, has now been forfeited to the United States. On December 17, 2015, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia entered final judgment forfeiting certain Abacha assets valued at $458 million. The forfeiture proceeding as to those assets is therefore concluded and the forfeited assets are ripe for repatriation to the innocent victim – Nigeria.”
The minister’s office said the obstacle to the release of the huge sum came after a lawyer, Godson Nnaka, filed an appeal against the judgment of forfeiture claiming he is entitled to a portion of the assets as compensation for legal services allegedly rendered to Nigeria.
According to the minister’s office, the US Department of Justice has explained that the “appeal is the only issue delaying repatriation of the forfeited assets to Nigeria.”
“They have explained that the forfeited assets are not located in the United States and that only upon disposition of the appeal would the United States then have a final judgment upon which it can seek the retrieval of the forfeited assets which are frozen in multiple foreign jurisdictions and return same to Nigeria.”