Nigeria may lose $550 million Abacha loot to U.S. – PACAC

The Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, PACAC, has raised an alarm on the enormous amount of Nigeria’s asset laundered abroad.

The committee called on the press and Nigerians in the Diaspora to join in advocating the return of the asset.

The Chairman of PACAC, Itse Sagay, on Thursday at a press briefing on asset recovery and asset return jointly organised by the committee and the Office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, said that Nigeria stands to lose another $550 million recovered from the Sani Abacha family, contrary to the earlier promise by the United States to return the loot to Nigeria.

“Between 1960 and 1999 when the country returned to democratic rule for instance, over $400billion was stolen by public officers and laundered outside the country. Money stolen by Abacha’s family alone and stashed away in foreign country was estimated to be about 2-3 per cent of Nigeria’s GDP for every year that Abacha was president.

“At the time of his death, Abacha’s assets were allegedly worth over $4 billion. These funds are just a fraction of Nigeria’s stolen wealth stashed away in foreign countries which can be traced”, Mr. Sagay said.

Mr. Sagay added that Nigeria’s demand for immediate return of stolen funds in foreign countries could not be more timely, as the country struggles with recession, reduced income from petroleum products, and with millions of internally displaced persons representing the victims of corruption.

“Any return will go a long way in helping Nigeria resolve the myriad of challenges it is confronted with.”

The SSA to the President on Foreign Affairs, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, said there is a huge difference between asset recovery and asset return, stressing that the person who steals is same as the person who refuses to return what was stolen.

“America has over $400million Nigerian money in its coffers, we should join hands in demanding the return of this money. It is against the UN Convention on Corruption, so we should ensure that whatever belongs to Nigeria should be returned. It is our fight, not just Buhari’s fight”, Mrs. Dabiri-Erewa said.

Also speaking, the chief of staff to the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Olaolu Koyede, said that prevention is the best way to fight corruption.

“We are still talking about Abacha loot, which is up to 20 years. Our take is that we need to strengthen our internal capacity so that these monies won’t be looted and moved away.

“The moment the money is moved out of the country, it changes form and becomes very difficult to be returned”, Mr. Koyede added.

One of the issues believed to have been discussed by President Muhammadu Buhari and the visiting U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, during a closed-door meeting in August last year was the return of outstanding money looted by late military dictator, Sani Abacha.

However, Nigeria stands the risk of forfeiting a hefty N218.3 billion ($550 million) already recovered from Mr Abacha’s estate if a suit filed by an American-based Nigerian lawyer against the Nigerian government in a United States federal court is not quickly resolved.

Texas-based attorney, Godson Nnaka, who was contracted by the Nigerian government in 2004 to help find and recover the funds siphoned by Mr Abacha and his associates, has asked the court to appoint him a private attorney of the fund as well as award him 40 per cent of the recovered fund. He claimed he made the request in line with United States law.

In 2004, Mr. Nnaka approached the Olusegun Obasanjo administration with a proposal to help find and recover money stolen by Mr Abacha.

The Attorney-General of the Federation at the time, Akinlolu Olujimi, in a November 25, 2004 letter, instructed Mr. Nnaka “to proceed in a professional manner to recover the funds on behalf of the country.

“Government will only pay for your professional services a percentage as may be agreed for any sum actually recovered,” the letter added.

In a letter to President Muhammadu Buhari in August 2015, Mr. Nnaka said he carried out the task. He claimed he hired a group of lawyers, financial consultants, and academics across the world to help identify and trace the funds.

He also said he travelled to France, England, Switzerland, Angola, Turkey, and Austria, to meet with government officials, law enforcement agents and financial experts with the aim of finding and securing the funds.

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