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File closed Abacha millions to go back to Nigeria

Former Nigerian President Sani Abacha, pictured in Sierra Leone in 1998


The $380 million siphoned off by the family of Nigeria’s former dictator Sani Abacha, and confiscated by Switzerland, will be returned to Nigeria. The Geneva file on the affair, ongoing since 1999, will be closed.

The move follows a deal by Nigeria and the Abacha family according to a statement on Tuesday by the Geneva public prosecutor’s officeexternal link. Nigeria has long been chasing funds taken by the Abacha clan while Sani Abacha was in power from 1994-1998.

Overall, the Abacha clan is thought to have diverted a total of about $5 billion (CHF5 billion) from the Nigerian treasury. Much of it ended up abroad.

The $380 million in question was seized in Luxembourg in 2006 on the orders of the Geneva justice authorities. The funds were under the control of various companies controlled by the Abacha family, which is considered a criminal organisation, the prosecutor’s office said in a statement.


The repatriation and confiscation of the Geneva funds followed the conclusion of an agreement in July 2014 between Nigeria and the Abacha family.

This set out the confiscation of the assets and their return to Nigeria, as well as Abuja dropping its complaint against Abba Abacha, the son of the former dictator.

According to the prosecutor’s office statement, the confiscation order “allows for, among other things, that the funds restituted to Nigeria are monitored by the World Bank”. If the monitoring is not effective, the funds will be returned to the Geneva authorities.

The statement also said that the file against Abba Abacha was now closed, based on an article in the penal code which allowed criminal proceedings to be abandoned once the defendant had made amends as much as was possible.


The non-governmental Berne Declaration group has slammed the agreement as disastrous.

"There are no safeguards to ensure that the people who were cheated at the time will benefit from the restituted money," the group said.

The accord also shows the difficulties for the Swiss justice authorities to prove beyond doubt the illegal nature of dictators' assets, according to the Berne Declaration.

In 2012, after a legal back and forth, the Geneva Police Court gave Abba Abacha a one-year suspended prison sentence for belonging to a criminal organisation. Abba Abacha was absent from the court room. The Federal Court in Lausanne, Switzerland’s highest instance, quashed the sentence in May 2014.

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