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A dummy’s guide to $321m Abacha loot returned by Switzerland to Nigeria

AGF Malami at the signing ceremony


A dummy’s guide to $321m Abacha loot returned by Switzerland to Nigeria

Yes it is in the news. The Swiss government will return $321 million (USD) to Nigeria from the General Sani Abacha loot. It appears the former dictator’s loot is Nigeria’s greatest rainy day savings fund.

The announcement on the latest return was made on Monday evening at the Global Forum on Asset Recovery (GFAR) in Washington after a tripartite agreement was signed between the governments of Nigeria and Switzerland, as well as the World Bank.

This particular recovery is probably the most significant of the Abacha loot to be recovered by the Nigerian Government. It represents a major milestone for the Muhammadu Buhari government’s anti-corruption efforts.

Buhari – it should be pointed out – was a part of the Abacha administration and once publicly vouched that the late dictator ‘never stole’.

Why it matters:

This $321m is the last tranche of the Abacha loot that Nigeria is expected to receive from the Swiss Government. The Swiss Government has returned $700m to Nigeria over a period of 10 years.

The trilateral agreement around the return of this money is the first of its kind, and it “can set a good example internationally for future restitution cases”, according to a statement by the Swiss government’s Federal Department of Foreign (FDFA) Affairs.

How did the money come about?

The money amounting to CHF 350m/$380m which was originally deposited in Luxembourg was frozen and then confiscated by a Geneva court in 2014 in a criminal case against Abba Abacha, the son of the late kleptocrat.

The repatriation of funds to Geneva and their confiscation followed the conclusion in July 2014 of an agreement between Nigeria and the Abacha family.

Christian Lüscher, Abba Abacha’s lawyer since 2011, received $17m at the close of the case from this amount.

On the 8th of March 2016, Switzerland and Nigeria signed a letter of intent to return the assets. “This step was made possible by the confiscation, by the Canton of Geneva prosecutor, of this sum initially deposited on accounts in Luxembourg,” said the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) in a statement after the signing of the letter of intent to repatriate the loot between Didier Burkhalter and Nigeria’s Attorney General, Abubakar Malami SAN in Abuja.

The Federal Executive Council approved the signing of the agreement on  Friday, 1st December 2017.

Disbursement and Accountability Mechanism

“In accordance with policy on repayment of national assets taken illegally, Switzerland has agreed with Nigeria and the World Bank to return nearly US$321 million for the benefit of the Nigerian people,” the FDFA said.

It however disclosed that the framework of the agreement negotiated by Ambassador Pio Wennubst, is based on the principles of transparency and accountability to be overseen by the World Bank.  ”The restitution of funds will take place within the framework of a project supported and overseen by the World Bank.”

The disbursements will be made into the Nigerian Government’s account but will be channeled to social security and safety nets projects.

The amount will also be disbursed in tranches and small installments over a period of three years and imposes measures to check corruption and abuse which include halting payments completely, according to the Swiss Head of Delegation to the GFAR, Ambassador Roberto Balzaretti, who spoke to the BBC.

How much did Abacha really steal and how much is left outside?

Who knows? What we know is that Abacha has been accused of embezzling $2.2 billion from the Central Bank of Nigeria. While an enquiry by the civilian Olusegun Obasanjo administration traced about $4 billion in foreign assets to Abacha.

According to records publicly available, we are aware that the the Nigerian Government has so far received $700m in cash (excluding assets) of the Abacha loot from the Swiss Government and would hit over a billion dollars with the newest refund. Also, the Government of Liechtenstein has returned $227m.

It is important to note that the United States which has described Abacha’s loot as a “shameless act of kleptocracy” is holding on to $300 million and giving Nigeria stringent conditions.

Not much progress has been made with the UK Government which continues to hold an estimated $1.3bn of Abacha’s loot despite its virtue signaling against corruption.

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