The Federal Government of Nigeria and the government of the United States of America (USA), yesterday, signed an agreement for the repatriation of the sum of $23 million (N9.70 billion), being assets looted by late head of state, Gen Sani Abacha.
While the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), signed the agreement on behalf of the Federal Gov- ernment, the United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Mary Beth Leonard, signed for the USA.
Shortly before signing the agreement, the AGF noted that since 2016, his ministry, the United Kingdom National Crime Agency (UK NCA) and the United States Department of Justice (USDOJ) have been working closely with the legal representatives of the Federal Government to finalise litigations related to the Abacha linked assets. Following agreement between the parties, Malami said, the UK High Court granted the NCA a registration and recovery order on July 21, 2021, which was sealed by the court on August 4, 2021.
He said: “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.”
In line with the agreement, which was a result of the cooperation of the UK NCA and USDOJ, President Muhammadu Buhari approved the use of the funds for the on-going Presidential Development Infrastructural Funds (PIDF) projects, which include the Abuja- Kano Road, Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and the Second Niger Bridge, which are being supervised by the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA).
“The President’s mandate to my office is to ensure that all international recoveries are transparently invested and monitored by civil society organisations, to complete these three projects within the agreed timeline,” he said, urging the US government not to relent in supporting Nigeria’s commitment to speedy and transparent management of returned assets.
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In her remarks, the US Ambassador to Nigeria, Beth Leonard, said their Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), seized the stolen funds in respect of Abacha and his associates’ violation of the US laws, when they laundered the funds through the US and into accounts to the UK.
She said: “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’s agreement, $23 million will be transferred to the Nigerian government, which through the NSIA, will be used to continue the construction of three key infrastructural projects located in strategic economic zones of the country.”
While pointing out that corruption disrupts the economy and access to key services, hinders development, pushes citizens towards extremism and makes countries and their officials susceptible to malicious foreign interference, Leonard said the US government will deny safe haven for corrupt actors and their assets