Govt may recover more Abacha loot, others from Swiss banks

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FRESH window may soon open for nations like Nigeria to recover more of her
stolen money still domiciled in bank vaults in Switzerland.
This
hope is coming as Europe plans to remove the policy of secrecy in banks. A
recent publication by the Washington Post disclosed that the euro crisis is
forcing states in Europe to search for new sources of money to implement their
budget and to cater for the greater number of people.

It
then said in this regard Switzerland’s strict banking secrecy is increasingly
under assault from countries such as Germany and Britain as never before.

Foreign
Affairs Minister, Amb. Olugbenga Ashiru, has consistently maintained that economic
diplomacy and foreign investment drive is the bedrock of the country’s foreign
policy. But despite efforts to retrieve the loots in Swiss banks especially the
ones taken away during the years of the country’s former Head of State,
the late Gen. Sani Abacha, diplomatic watchers think success has been below par
and lacking in consistency and transparent tracking.
Nigeria
succeeded in getting back through the assistance of the Swiss government about
$500 million of the $2 billion reportedly starched away by the Abacha family.
The
Director-General of the Budget Office of the Federation, Dr. Bright Okogu, told
The Guardian in this regard that the repatriated $500 million Abacha loot from
Switzerland had been “well applied.”
Okogu
who at the time (2005) was a Senior Special Assistant to the Minister
of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, recalled that the Swiss government even
appointed the World Bank and some non-governmental organisations to monitor the
management of the looted funds.
Desirable
as the need to remove Swiss bank’s protection by some of the strictest secrecy
laws is, the question of how to penetrate the financial system of the country
remains.
Worried
about the increasing strain to relations between Nigeria and Switzerland on
account of the stolen money in the latter’s bank vaults, the Federal Government
signed in 2010 a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Switzerland on broader
partnership beyond the once prevailing on the issue of irregular migration.
Switzerland
then pledged to ensure that its financial centre is not continually used as a
safe haven for illicitly acquired assets. It also offered the Federal
Government “continued cooperation for any ongoing cases.”
That
same year, Abba Abacha, one of the sons of Gen. Sani Abacha, appeared before a
court in Geneva, Switzerland, to defend an earlier appeal against his
conviction for plundering state resources and involvement in criminal
organisations. His appearance was in connection with the $2.2 billion his
father is believed to have siphoned from Nigerian coffers from 1993 to 1998.
In
November, of the preceding year (2011), Abba was ordered to repay  $350
million by a Swiss court. The court said the money was being held by criminal
organisations and was collected with international assistance from Luxembourg
and the Bahamas.
In
September 2005, the Federal Government and the Swiss government signed an
agreement in Washington DC at the World Bank headquarters, for the repatriation
of $458 million in stolen loot stashed by late Abacha and his family in several
banks in the European country. This represented about 90.7 per cent of the
total $505 million taken illegally out of the country to Switzerland.
In
a response to The Guardian’s enquiry in Abuja following the understanding on
loot recovery, a high level official of the Swiss embassy said: “As a major
international financial centre, Switzerland has a fundamental interest in
ensuring that illicitly acquired assets do not find a safe haven in its banks.
It has been the first country to start returning assets stolen by the Abacha
clan to Nigeria and has returned by far the highest amount: over $700 million.
Switzerland remains ready to examine and respond to any possible future
Nigerian request for mutual legal assistance. I would say the recovery of
stolen funds is still on.”
He
also said of the understanding with Nigeria: “The existing MoU is for the good
of Nigeria. I cannot speak for others. The blockage of accounts and
confiscation of assets are usually dealt with in the framework of legal assistance
in criminal matters between countries.”
On
the unseen financial implications for Switzerland in continuing to render the
expected assistance to Nigeria in this regard, the official said: “The
partnership (earlier referred to) is focused on both a dialogue between the
partners and filling it with concrete activities and projects in the interest
of both countries. In order to identify potential activities and projects, we
want to discuss together current needs and gaps.”
Regarding
how Nigeria has utilised the earlier recovered money from Switzerland, Okogwu
said: “ I was not the Director-General of Budget Office of the Federation then,
I functioned in another capacity. But I remember we attended meetings with the
Swiss government officials and signed papers on the administration of the
looted funds. They even appointed the World Bank and other agencies to monitor
the implementation by the agencies of government.”
Also
commenting on what Nigeria could do with the Swiss government, the Swiss
Secretary of State, Ministry of Economic Affairs, Jean-Daniel Gerber, said:
“Repatriating illegally acquired funds, such as the Abacha funds in the case of
Nigeria, is an important tool in the fight against corruption and at the same
time a significant potential source for development financing.”

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