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Nigeria asks World Bank help to hasten return of looted funds

by Business News Report

President Muhammadu Buhari has asked the World Bank to help Nigeria recover N102.4 billion ($320 million) looted and hidden in Swiss bank accounts by late military dictator Sani Abacha. Buhari made the appeal yesterday during a visit by the World Bank Group Chief Operating Officer Sri Mulyani Indrawati to the Nigerian capital, Abuja, according to a statement released by the president’s office.

Authorities in Switzerland have agreed to return the funds on the condition that they are used for social programs in Nigeria monitored by the World Bank, according to the statement. Buhari’s administration, which took office last year on an anti-corruption platform, has faced a cash crunch due to the falling price of oil which provided about two-thirds of government revenue and 90 percent of export earnings in 2014. Nigeria has been plagued for decades by graft and the nation came 136th out of 175 countries in Transparency International’s 2015 world corruption index, discouraging repatriation of stolen loot.

“We need the support of the World Bank for the repatriation of the funds,” Buhari said. “If such repatriated funds have been misapplied in the past, I assure you that the same will not happen with us.”

It will be recalled that the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, on March 9, 2016, signed a letter of intent for the repatriation of $321 million allegedly stashed in Swiss banks by the late Gen. Sani Abacha, former Nigerian Head of State. The signing, which was preceded by a brief discussion between Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo and Swiss Foreign Affairs Minister, Didier Burkhalter took place at the Vice-President’s conference room where Malami signed on behalf of Nigeria and Burkhalter for his home country. With Swiss Ambassador, Eric Mayoraz, and his Chief of Staff, Damien Cottier, in attendance as witnesses, the occasion served as an avenue for Malami to explain that the Buhari administration was not resting on its oars, as it was working hard to recover all looted funds.

At the meeting, it was revealed that Switzerland and Nigeria have already written the history 10 years ago with the restitution of $700 million of the Abacha funds. Today, it is another amount of $321 million that can be restituted.

During Abacha’s regime, he and his family reportedly stole a total of £5 billion from the country’s coffers. In 2004, Abacha was listed as the fourth most corrupt leader in history. Interestingly, during a service marking the 10th year anniversary of the death of the dictator, several former Nigerian heads of state, including Gen. M Buhari(rtd.), refuted claims that Abacha looted the country, claiming such accusations are “baseless”. Abacha’s national security adviser, Alhaji Ismaila Gwarzo, played a central role in the looting and transfer of money to overseas accounts.  His son Mohammed Abacha was also involved.

A preliminary report published by the Abdulsalam Abubakar transitional government in November 1998 described the process. Sani Abacha told Ismaila Gwarzo to provide fake funding requests, which Abacha approved. The funds were usually sent in cash or travellers’ cheques by the Central Bank of Nigeria to Gwarzo, who took them to Abacha’s house. Mohammed Abacha then arranged to launder the money to offshore accounts. An estimated $1.4 billion in cash was delivered in this way.  In March 2014, the United States Department of Justice revealed that it had frozen more than $458 million believed to have been illegally obtained by Abacha and other corrupt officials

On August 7, 2014, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the largest forfeiture in the DOJ’s history, the return of $480 million to the Nigerian government. Assistant Attorney General Caldwell noted that “rather than serve his county, General Abacha used his public office in Nigeria to loot millions of dollars, engaging in brazen acts of kleptocracy”.

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