4:33 pm - Wednesday December 12, 2018

DEVELOPING IN AMERICA: NIGERIA’S Economic & Social Rights Group, SERAP Begs President TRUMP to Release Sani Abacha’s STOLEN $500Million Nigerian Fund…’Money is Proceeds of Corruption traced to Nigeria’s ex-Dictator’ *Letter addressed to WHITE HOUSE, cites United States obligations as a signatory to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption * Pleads that Trump’s Administration “promptly initiate civil asset forfeiture proceedings” to ensure that the funds are swiftly returned to Nigeria *Reveals that Nigeria’s lost wealth from Abacha and his family had been frozen in accounts and assets around the world * United States Congress has discussed a bill that would see the Nigerian funds placed in a charity to support the victims of Boko Haram-INVESTIGATION * ‘We estimates in 2007 that developing countries lose up to $40 billion a year through corruption’-The World Bank * “President Barack Obama earlier met with Nigeria’s President Buhari and made a commitment to return this sum to the government of Nigeria. This has been subject to legal challenge, and the bureaucratic system in America”-Professor Bolaji Owasanoye, Executive Secretary of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption BY GEORGE ELIJAH OTUMU/FOREIGN BUREAU CHIEF, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

DEVELOPING IN AMERICA:
NIGERIA’S Economic & Social Rights Group, SERAP Begs President TRUMP to Release Sani Abacha’s STOLEN $500Million Nigerian Fund…’Money is Proceeds of Corruption traced to Nigeria’s ex-Dictator’

*Letter addressed to WHITE HOUSE, cites United States obligations as a signatory to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption
* Pleads that Trump’s Administration “promptly initiate civil asset forfeiture proceedings” to ensure that the funds are swiftly returned to Nigeria
*Reveals that Nigeria’s lost wealth from Abacha and his family had been frozen in accounts and assets around the world
* United States Congress has discussed a bill that would see the Nigerian funds placed in a charity to support the victims of Boko Haram-INVESTIGATION
* ‘We estimates in 2007 that developing countries lose up to $40 billion a year through corruption’-The World Bank
* “President Barack Obama earlier met with Nigeria’s President Buhari and made a commitment to return this sum to the government of Nigeria. This has been subject to legal challenge, and the bureaucratic system in America”-Professor Bolaji Owasanoye, Executive Secretary of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption

BY GEORGE ELIJAH OTUMU/FOREIGN BUREAU CHIEF, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

IN AN OPEN LETTER addressed to President Donald Trump of United States of America in White House, Nigeria’s leading economic and social rights group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, is pleading that Nigeria’s stolen $500Million fund held away by late dictator, General Sani Abacha during his notorious reign of terror be returned to the coffers of Nigeria to help facilitate speedy economic and social developments in Africa’s most populous black nation on earth.

SERAP in the letter is begging the Trump Administration to do all that could be done in ensuring this fund safely return to Nigeria since United States obligations as a signatory to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, should ensure that the government “promptly initiate civil asset forfeiture proceedings” so that the funds are swiftly returned to Nigeria successfully.

The letter reads: “We (SERAP) urge the President Donald Trump’s administration to attach and release to Nigeria some $500 million worth of United States-based proceeds of corruption traced to former Nigerian dictator General Sani Abacha.”

The letter cites United States obligations as a signatory to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, and demands that the government “promptly initiate civil asset forfeiture proceedings” to ensure that the funds are swiftly returned to Nigeria.

Without doubt, General Abacha was a notorious dictator who led Nigeria for five years after taking power in a 1993 coup. He is alleged to have stolen over $4 billion during his reign, before his death in 1998. SERAP’s claim is the latest in a series of attempts to recover lost wealth from Abacha and his family, which has been frozen in accounts and assets around the world.

For the records, Switzerland has recovered and returned around $700 million to Nigeria to date, with further sums pending. The United States Department of Justice had already seized $480 million in 2014, prior to SERAP’s new claim, although this has yet to be returned.

The Nigerian government’s focus is on reclaiming the funds it is due from these latter cases rather than the SERAP claim, says Professor Bolaji Owasanoye, Executive Secretary of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption.

Owasanoye explains: “President Barack Obama earlier met with our Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari and made a commitment to return this sum to the government of Nigeria. This has been subject to legal challenge, and the bureaucratic system in the United States.”

Further investigation reveal that the Nigerian government will face further obstacles before recovering the money. Some of the forfeited $480 million is located in banks outside the United States, which will require an even more laborious process to recover.

Alexander W. Sierck, a Washington-based lawyer who has represented SERAP pro-bono for several years in their efforts to recover Abacha funds says: “The United States has to get court orders for those countries to physically move cash back to the United States to go in the pot of seized assets. It is a lawyer’s feast that that generates a lot of work — but it is a slow process.”

A further complication is the DoJ’s determination to avoid allowing repatriated funds to be lost to corruption a second time, often seeking safeguards.
In the landmark case of Equatorial Guinea, a haul of assets worth $30 million seized from the ruling Obiang family including property and sports cars was repatriated in the form of charitable trusts, partly overseen by the United States. A similar deal was reached over proceeds of corruption from Kazakhstan.

Sources reveal that United States Congress has discussed a bill that would see the Nigerian funds placed in a charity to support the victims of Boko Haram, but Nigeria is unlikely to accept such an arrangement.
Owasanoye says: “United States can monitor the use of the funds — we are transparent-but we are a sovereign state and the money should be returned to us. The need is particularly acute as Nigeria struggles through a period of recession. Claiming the money will be used for a range of social welfare projects.”

Facts from World Bank:
The World Bank estimated in 2007 that developing countries lose up to $40 billion a year through corruption, and little is successfully reclaimed.
For Emile van der Does de Willebois, the Bank’s global lead for financial market integrity and asset recovery, he said: “What is being recovered is a fraction of a fraction. Legal procedures take time and an enormous amount of resources.

“Of any number of corruption cases you can only focus on one or two…(and) it is up to prosecutorial authorities to make a judgement on what is the most important case. The process is further complicated by problems with mutual legal assistance and co-ordination,” as ‘victim’ often lack expertise in how to deal with financial centers such as Switzerland and the United States.

But there has been progress, he adds, such as through a legal maneuver that allowed Switzerland to reclaim Abacha assets by classifying his family as a criminal organization, thus lowering the burden of proof required for seizure.
New initiatives such as the US Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative, and European Union-led efforts to establish transparency in offshore holdings, also aid recovery efforts.

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