Abacha’s millions can return to Nigeria

Sani Abacha's money in Swiss banks was frozen in 1999 Keystone

Switzerland’s Federal Court has rejected efforts to stop the handover to Nigeria of hundreds of millions of dollars tied to the country’s late dictator, Sani Abacha.

This content was published on February 8, 2005 - 15:44

The country's highest court threw out an appeal by Abacha's family and associates, who had opposed the return of about $500 million (SFr610.75 million).

They had argued that a new Swiss investigation into Abacha's son, Abba Abacha, could change previous rulings.

Last month, Switzerland sought Abba Abacha's extradition from Germany, where he was arrested in December on a Swiss warrant.

He is accused of money laundering, fraud and breach of trust.

Green light

The decision gives the green light for the return of the money, which represents the bulk of assets tied to Sani Abacha in Switzerland. The Swiss have said that it is mostly of “criminal origin”.

It was not immediately clear when the handover would take place.

The Swiss authorities have been investigating bank accounts linked to Sani Abacha since the Nigerian government accused him of looting up to SFr3 billion from state coffers during his rule from 1993 until his death in June 1998.

The following year, Swiss authorities froze SFr870 million in accounts linked to Abacha and his clan.

The Swiss Federal Banking Commission investigated 19 Swiss banks for accepting Abacha money.

Criticism

In a report in August 2000, it criticised a number of banks for “serious omissions and serious individual failure or misconduct”.

The list included three banks in the Credit Suisse Group, as well as Crédit Agricole Indosuez (Switzerland), UBP Union Bancaire Privée and M.M. Warburg Bank (Switzerland).

To date, the Swiss have returned about $200 million to Nigeria, but the Abacha family and associates had tried to block the release of the rest with an appeal to the Lausanne-based court.

Nigeria's government also recovered $146 million from an unidentified bank in Luxembourg in 2001 after the Abacha family released the money, Nigerian officials have said.

British bank accounts linked to Sani Abacha handled transactions totalling $1.3 billion between 1996 and 2000, British investigators said in 2001.

The British High Court at that time authorized the government to find and seize money allegedly looted from Nigeria during Abacha's rule, but in 2002 Nigeria accused Britain of delaying the retrieval of the funds.

Money was also reportedly discovered in Liechtenstein and Jersey.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Between 1993 and 1998, Sani Abacha is said to have plundered up to SFr3 billion from the coffers of Nigeria. SFr870 million was frozen in Switzerland.

The Federal Court in Lausanne has rejected an appeal from Abacha’s family and clan to stop the handover of the remaining $500 million still in Switzerland.

They had argued that a new Swiss investigation into Abacha's son, Abba Abacha, could change previous rulings.

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