U.S. raises hope for return of $500m Abacha loot
• Embassy to transmit letter to President Trump
• NGOs seek transparency on recovered funds
Efforts to recover some $500 million worth of United States-based proceeds of corruption traced to Nigeria’s former Head of State, the late General Sani Abacha have taken a positive turn. The U.S. Embassy in Nigeria yesterday, in an electronic mail exchange with The Guardian confirmed it would transmit to President Donald Trump, a letter from the Socio-economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) requesting the administration to release the assets to Nigeria.
Executive Director at SERAP, Adetokunbo Mumuni, had, in a statement, quoted the U.S. Embassy as saying, “the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are in regular communication with the Nigerian Attorney General and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs regarding further cooperation needed to conclude pending asset forfeiture cases and to develop a mechanism for the timely and transparent repatriation of those assets.”
The embassy letter signed by David J. Young, Deputy Chief of Mission followed a memo dated February 3, 2017 and signed by the organisation’s U.S. Volunteer Counsel Professor Alexander W. Sierck and Mumuni.
The embassy’s letter read in part: “The United States government supports the government of Nigeria’s efforts to work with civil society to identify how harm can be remedied through the return of stolen assets. We encourage you to disclose these issues with the Nigerian Attorney General and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who are working closely with the US on the repatriation process.
“We were encouraged by civil society’s role in the development of Nigeria’s Open Government Partnership Action Plan and the commitment to strengthening laws to foster transparency and accountability in the management of recovered and returned assets.”
But the Press Attaché at the Public Affairs Section of the Embassy, Mr. Russel Brooks in an electronic mail exchange last night further clarified the matter on the purported Abacha loot in the US.
“Thanks for allowing me to place this in the proper context,” he said. “The DCM sent a routine, standard reply that the SERAP letter would be forwarded; no more, no less. Mr. Young also pointed out that the matter of the assets in question is being managed by the U.S. Justice Department in collaboration with the Nigerian Attorney General and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Requests for additional details or further clarification should be directed to the U.S. Department of Justice,” Brooks concluded.
Meanwhile, a constitutional lawyer, Mr. Ebun Olu Adegoruwa said SERAP should, rather than expend energy on retrieving new funds, focus its energy on how to ensure that previously repatriated funds are judiciously utilised.
According to him, “I think the efforts are commendable but I would rather say that SERAP should work more on getting the court to ascertain how the $550 million Abacha loot that was previously repatriated from Switzerland was used. I feel it’s better to have the money safe in the U.S. than returning it to Nigeria where it is likely going to be looted again.”
The Chairman of the Civil Society Network Against Corruption (CSNAC), Mr. Lanre Suraj said the readiness of the U.S. embassy to take “such a step is a welcome development.”
“The U.S.,” he said, “has actually been tactically avoiding returning some of the stolen money that has been forfeited. Throughout the period of former President, Barrack Obama, Nigeria didn’t get any single refund from the U.S.” The CSNAC had written a similar letter in respect of the funds allegedly taken out of the country by former governor of Bayelsa State, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha. “For over two years now nothing came out of it. But the civil society organisations in Nigeria are going to work relentlessly in collaborations with their counterparts in the U.S. to put pressure on the U.S. government to do the needful. We are expecting that President Trump would react on time particularly considering the present economic crisis Nigeria is undergoing.”
In the same vein, the President of the Constitutional Rights and Peoples Development Advocacy Initiative (CRAI), Mr. Ikechukwu Ikeji said the process should go beyond asking for loots to be repatriated. He said the process “must be made transparent and the actual amount involved announced.
“There is the need to ensure that previous loots returned to Nigeria are judiciously used.” When contacted on his mobile telephone yesterday, Mumuni affirmed that the groups would continue to ask for repatriation of looted funds anywhere in the world.