By Veronica Smith (AFP)
Washington DC— The United States said Wednesday it had ordered a freeze on $458 million in assets stolen by former Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha and his accomplices and hidden in European accounts.
The Justice Department said the corruption proceeds — stashed away in bank accounts in Britain, France and Jersey — were frozen at Washington’s request with the help of local authorities.
Abacha died in office in 1998, but his surviving relatives still include some of the richest and most influential figures in Africa’s most populous nation.
According to a civil forfeiture complaint unsealed in the US District Court in Washington, the department wants the recover more than $550 million in connection with the action.
“This is the largest civil forfeiture action to recover the proceeds of foreign official corruption ever brought by the department,” said Mythili Raman, acting assistant attorney general.
“General Abacha was one of the most notorious kleptocrats in memory, who embezzled billions from the people of Nigeria while millions lived in poverty,” she said.
The Justice Department said the assets frozen — along with additional assets named in the complaint — represent the “proceeds of corruption” during and after the military regime of Abacha, who became president of Nigeria through a military coup on November 17, 1993 and held that office until his death on June 8, 1998.
The complaint alleges that Abacha, his son Mohammed Sani Abacha, their associate Abubakar Atiku Bagudu and others “embezzled, misappropriated and extorted billions from the government of Nigeria and others, then laundered their criminal proceeds through the purchase of bonds backed by the United States using US financial institutions.”
Raman said that the action sends a “clear message” that the United States is “determined and equipped to confiscate the ill-gotten riches of corrupt leaders who drain the resources of their countries.”
The US government’s Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative “where appropriate” provides for the return of stolen proceeds “to benefit the people harmed by these acts of corruption and abuse of office.”
It did not specify what action would be taken with regard to the Abacha case.
The funds frozen include approximately $313 million in two bank accounts in the Bailiwick of Jersey and $145 million in two bank accounts in France, the department said.
Four investment portfolios and three bank accounts in Britain were frozed, with an estimated value of at least $100 million but the exact amounts in the accounts have not yet been determined, it said.
The Justice Department said that on February 25 and 26, authorities in Jersey, France and Britain complied with the US action to freeze the assets.
The complaint also seeks to freeze five corporate entities registered in the British Virgin Islands.
According to the complaint, Abacha and others systematically embezzled billions of dollars in public funds from Nigeria’s central bank on the false pretense that the funds were necessary for national security. They withdrew the funds in cash and then moved the money overseas through US financial institutions.
Abacha and his finance minister, Anthony Ani, also allegedly caused the Nigerian government to buy Nigerian government bonds at vastly inflated prices from a company controlled by Bagudu and Mohammed Abacha. That operation created an an illegal windfall of more than $282 million.
In addition, Abacha and his co-conspirators allegedly extorted more than $11 million from a French civil engineering company, Dumez, and its Nigerian affiliate in connection with payments on government contracts.
Funds involved in each of these schemes were laundered through the United States in nine financial institutions, the complaint alleged.
The financial institutions involved include Citibank, Chase Manhattan Bank and Morgan Guaranty Trust Company, now JPMorgan Chase, and New York-based units of Britain’s Barclays Bank and Germany’s Commerzbank.
—— 2014 forthcoming book: In this engaging, uniquely insightful and first person reportage book, MANDELA & ACHEBE: Footprints of Greatness, about two global icons and towering persons of African descent whose exemplary lives
He chronicles, movingly, his 1998 reporting from the Robben Island jail room in South Africa where Mandela was held for decades through his 20 years of being close to Achebe. He moderated the 2012 Achebe Colloquium at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.”I’ll forever remember having walked inside and peeped through that historic Mandela jail cell (where he was held for most of his 27 years in unjust imprisonment) at the dreaded Robben Island, on March 27, 1998, alongside then Editor-in-chief of TIME magazine and later news chief executive of the CNN, Walter Isaacson (and others) when President Bill Clinton made his first official trip to South Africa and came to Robben Island. Come to this island of scourge and you will understand, in part, the simple greatness and towering grace of Nelson Mandela”, notes Chido Nwangwu, award-winning writer, multimedia specialist and founder of USAfricaonline.com, the first African-owned U.S-based newspaper published on the internet, in his first book; he writes movingly from his 1998 reporting from South Africa on Mandela. http://www.mandelaachebechido.com/
There’s a compelling political trinity to Nelson Mandela: the man, the messiah and the mystique. https://usafricaonline.com/2013/07/18/mandela-95-hearty-cheers-to-his-footprints-of-greatness-by-chido-nwangwu/
Why Jonathan should fight back, or Obasanjo will end his presidency. By Chido Nwangwu. https://usafricaonline.com/2013/12/19/why-president-jonathan-should-fight-back-or-obasanjo-will-end-his-presidency-by-chido-nwangwu/
USAfrica, December 19, 2013: To fully make sense of former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s December 2, 2013 letter to President Goodluck Jonathan, you should follow the key point of my analytical deduction which I refer to as Obasanjo’s unspoken historical burden; namely, for the 3 times where he exercised partisan power and influence in Nigeria’s presidential election history,
he has faced unpleasant twists, unexpected and unsatisfactory outcomes: 1979 (he supported Alhaji Shehu Shagari, NPN, removed in a military coup in 1983); 2007 (he personally picked an ill Alhaji Umar Yar’Adua, PDP, who died after 3 years of ineffective presidency as the 13th Head of State on May 5, 2010) and he also picked Yar’Adua’s VP, Goodluck Jonathan who became acting President on May 6. On April 18, 2011, he was declared winner of the presidential election with the very active campaign support of Obasanjo.
But Obasanjo insists that Jonathan is not good enough and deserves the December 2 acidic, public denunciation of his presidency and worse, of this same man who has been, according to my key sources in the presidency in Abuja, very respectful and deferential toward Obasanjo.
Based on Obasanjo’s military antecedents, power attitude and drawing from my reading of his history as a leader, he will Not — for lack of a better word — “forgive” Jonathan despite his references to God and Christ, and to the great Nelson Mandela the same week as a forgiving leader. To be sure, Obasanjo does not have the forgiving spirit of Mandela…. For the FULL text of this commentary, click here https://usafricaonline.com/2013/12/19/why-president-jonathan-should-fight-back-or-obasanjo-will-end-his-presidency-by-chido-nwangwu/
Nigeria’s Federal Republic of Insecurity. By Chido Nwangwu, Publisher of USAfrica, USAfricaonline.com and the Nigeria360 e-group. https://usafricaonline.com/2011/12/17/nigeria-federal-republic-of-insecurity-by-chido-nwangwu/ : IF any of the Nigerian President’s 100 advisers has the polite courage for the extraordinary task of reminding His Excellency of his foremost, sworn, constitutional obligation to the national interest about security and safety of Nigerians and all who sojourn in Nigeria, please whisper clearly to Mr. President that I said, respectfully: Nigerians, at home and abroad, are still concerned and afraid for living in what I call Nigeria’s Federal Republic of Insecurity. FULL text of commentary at USAfricaonline.com https://usafricaonline.com/2011/12/17/nigeria-federal-republic-of-insecurity-by-chido-nwangwu/
Obama’s Africa agenda, our business and democracy. By Chido Nwangwu, Publisher of USAfricaonline.com and CLASS magazine and The Black Business Journal
Why Chinua Achebe, the Eagle on the Iroko, is Africa’s writer of the century. By Chido Nwangwu, Publisher of USAfrica, and first African-owned, U.S-based newspaper published on the internet USAfricaonline.com https://usafricaonline.com/chido.achebebest.html
How and Why Romney beat Obama in first presidential debate. By Chido Nwangwu, Publisher of USAfrica. https://usafricaonline.com/2012/10/03/how-and-why-romney-beat-obama-in-first-presidential-debate-by-chido-nwangwu/
Related insight: USAfrica’s October 17, 2001 special report/alert: Nigeria’s bin-Laden cheerleaders could ignite religious war, destabilize Africa. By USAfrica’s Publisher Chido Nwangwu. https://usafricaonline.com/chido.binladennigeria.html
• For seasoned insights and breaking news on these issues, log on to USAfricaonline.com and USAfrica powered e-groups including USAfrica at googlegroups. Follow us at Facebook.com/USAfricaChido, Facebook.com/USAfrica247 n Twitter.com/Chido247