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Court upholds absent Abacha’s sentence

Sani Abacha, pictured here, and his family are thought to have diverted millions of dollars from the Nigerian treasury AFP

A Geneva court has confirmed the sentence handed down to the son of former Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha for belonging to a criminal organisation linked to looted assets charges. Abba Abacha’s lawyers say their absent client will appeal.

On Thursday the Geneva Police Court rejected a medical excuse put forward by Abacha’s lawyers which they claim explained his absence from the long-awaited retrial.

“His absence is unjustified and he never asked to be represented by his lawyers,” the judge declared.

This absence meant opposition to his one-year suspended prison sentence for belonging to a criminal organisation handed down by the same court in summer 2010 was “deemed withdrawn”, the judge concluded.

During the hearing, Abacha’s lawyers presented a medical certificate from a Geneva doctor who had travelled to Nigeria to examine him, which stated that he was still unable to travel to Geneva. Abacha injured his back during a road accident in Nigeria several days before the retrial was due to open in July this year.

But based on separate independent medical conclusions, the judge declared Abacha had a minor injury and could have easily managed the air flight three months after his accident. Prosecutor Dario Zanni accused Abacha of “playing for time”.

Abacha did not appear before the court during the original 2010 hearing as he failed to get a visa in time.

The case was heard in his absence and he received a one-year suspended sentence. However, in March 2011 an appeal court quashed the verdict and ordered a retrial. It found that Abacha’s rights had been “seriously violated” because the case had been heard in his absence. The Swiss Federal Court backed the appeal court’s decision which led to Thursday’s retrial.

As part of the family structure set up by his father, 43-year-old Abacha was found guilty of helping to plunder the Nigerian treasury while Sani Abacha was in power in the 1990s.
The court ordered the confiscation of the sum – thought to be over $400 million (SFr355 million) – which Abba Abacha stashed in the Bahamas and Luxembourg.

The Abacha clan is thought to have diverted a total of about $5 billion from the Nigerian treasury.

Marcos, Philippines (1986 – 2003): $684 million returned to country

Abacha, Nigeria (1999-2005): $700 million returned to country 

Montesinos, Peru (2002-2006): $92 million returned to country

Salinas, Mexico (1996-2008): $74 million returned to country

Mobutu, Congo (1997-2009): $6.7 million returned to Mobutu’s heirs

Gbagbo, Ivory Coast: (2011-): n/a

Ben Ali, Tunisia (2011-) : tens of millions of dollars


Duvalier, Haiti (1986-2011): $5.7 million still frozen

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR