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Swiss court tries Abacha’s son in absentia


A GENEVA-based court has kicked off the trial of Abba Abacha, son of the late head of state, Gen. Sani Abacha for alleged looting of the Nigerian treasury.

The prosecution, which followed after years of investigation, was however done without Abba’s presence.

A spokesman for the trial, who confirmed a report in the Geneva-based Le Temps newspaper, said that Abba was absent in court because he could not get a visa to enter Switzerland on time.

Abba, 41, is accused of plundering Nigeria’s accounts while his father was in power between 1993 and 1998.

“The trial risks being a failure because of the fact that he didn’t get a visa and that some of the 40 witnesses might not appear,” Olivier Longchamp of the Berne Declaration, a Swiss group said.

Abacha rose to power in Nigeria in 1993. Between then and his death in 1998, it is alleged that his family siphoned off $2.2 billion (SFr2.4 billion) from public coffers

Agency report said yesterday that some $700 million of the looted fund ended up in Swiss bank accounts. After the death of their father, Abba and his brother Mohammed were allegedly in control of most of that stolen money.

In 1999, Nigerian authorities asked Swiss justice officials for help in repatriating some of the funds that had ended up in Swiss accounts.

Switzerland then blocked the $700 million before giving it back to Nigeria in instalments, according to an accord both countries had signed.

Abba was convicted of involvement in a criminal organisation and received a suspended sentence. In addition, the Swiss authorities confiscated $350 million from his accounts, which was collected with help from Luxembourg and the Bahamas.

Regardless of whether Abacha arrives in Switzerland, Longchamp believes the case is still a step forward.

“There’s a real willingness to fight impunity and to punish people even if they are political personalities.” Switzerland began investigating the Abacha family in 1999 and has so far handed back about $700 million to Nigeria.

Lawyers to the Federal Government claim that Sani Abacha stole $2.2 billion.

However, Swiss newspaper Le Temps reports that Abba, who is currently in Nigeria, would not be attending the hearing.

He was refused a visa to come to Switzerland because he did not apply for it in time, the newspaper said.

The Swiss authorities pursued Abba for six years before extraditing him from Germany in 2005. A court in Geneva convicted him in November 2009.

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