Over $334.7 million in stolen funds from the late General Sani Abacha and his associates have been returned to Nigeria by the US, according to US Ambassador to Nigeria Mary Leonard on Tuesday.
She claimed that the US government was well aware of the terrible effects that corruption has on communities, particularly how it undermines trust and the capacity of governments to provide for their inhabitants.
“It distorts the economies and access to key services. It hinders development, pushes citizens towards extremism and makes countries and their officials susceptible to malicious foreign interference”, the US Envoy emphasised.
Leonard made these comments when he and the Federal Government signed a contract for the return of $23 million in assets that Abacha and his accomplices had looted.
Leonard signed for the United States while Abubakar Malami (SAN), the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, did so on behalf of the Nigerian government.
According to Malami, the Federal Ministry of Justice, the UK National Crime Agency, and the US Department of Justice have been collaborating closely with the legal representatives of the Federal Government since 2016 to resolve legal matters involving assets tied to the Abacha regime.
As a result of an agreement between the parties, the UK High Court reportedly granted the NCA a registration and recovery order on July 21, 2021, which the court then sealed on August 4 of that same year.
In her address, Leonard said that Abacha and his colleagues broke US law when they transferred the stolen money through the US and into accounts in the UK. As a result, the US Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation seized the assets.
She said, “This agreement is also kind of collaboration that our government must continue in order to right the wrongs committed under the previous regimes, combined with a $311.7m seized and repatriated with the assistance of the Bailiwick of Jersey and the government of Nigeria in 2020.
“This repatriation brings to a total amount of funds repatriated in this case by the US to more than $334.7 million. As a result of today (Tuesday’s) agreement, $23 million will be transferred to the Nigerian government, which through the NSIA (Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority), will be used to continue the construction of three key infrastructural projects located in strategic economic zones of the country: The 2nd Niger Bridge, Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and the Abuja-Kano Road.
“In other words, these recovered criminal proceeds, like the $311.7m previously seized and repatriated, will be transformed into visible and impactful representation of the possibilities of government assets that directly improve the lives of average Nigerians.
“US law enforcement will continue to deny safe-heavens for corrupt actors and their assets. Our agreement today also serves to reaffirm the important role Nigerian Civil Society plays in combating corruption. Among other things, it provides for both independent auditor as well as independent CSO monitor within Nigeria to track the expenditure of these recovered funds.”
She promised that the United States would continue to do its part to facilitate the recovery and return of the proceeds of corruption to the Nigerian people.
Leonard said, “I am so pleased to be representing the US government to finalize the agreement for the repatriation of approximately $23 million worth of additional assets stolen by former dictator, Sani Abacha and his associates from the Nigerian people and will be returned to the Nigerian people.
“The US Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation seized these funds in response to General Abacha and his associates’ violation of US laws when they laundered these assets through the US and into accounts in the United Kingdom.
“These actions were flagrant breach of the Nigerian people’s trust, but today is the result of an extensive and high level corporation between the US, the UK and the Federal Republic of Nigeria to make the Nigerian people whole.
“It is in recognition of the role corruption plays in undermining democracy that the US considers the fight against corruption as a core national security interest. To that end, President Biden really supported US strategy in countering corruption last December.
Malami further noted before signing the agreement, “The forfeited Mecosta/Sani assets were subsequently transferred to the NCA, which on February 7, 2022 held the sum of $23,439,724, pending the execution of the asset return agreement between the FRN and the USA.
“The President’s mandate to my office is to ensure that all international recoveries are transparently invested and monitored by a civil society organisation to complete these three projects within the agreed timeline.”
The AGF urged the US government to continue supporting Nigeria’s dedication to prompt and open asset management.