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Nigeria singles out Swiss assistance in Abacha affair

The Nigerian ambassador to Berne, Ogbe Obande, has praised efforts by the Swiss government to recover money up to SFr1 billion placed in Swiss banks by the late dictator, Sani Abacha.

This content was published on September 20, 2000 - 12:08

Obande said no other country, whose banks were holding money stolen by Abacha and his associates, had been as forthcoming as Switzerland in helping the present democratic government of President Olusegun Obasanjo to recover the funds.

"I'm happy to say without equivocation that so far Switzerland has given the best cooperation to Nigeria in its quest to recover the looted property stashed in banks across Europe and the Americas" Obande said at a briefing on the occasion of Nigeria's national day.

According to Nigerian government estimates, up to $3 billion were looted during Abacha's reign from 1994 to 1998. Of these, $2 billion have been found and blocked in bank accounts in Switzerland, Luxemburg, Liechtenstein, Britain and other countries.

The amount blocked in Swiss bank accounts currently stands at $660 million (SFr1,181 million). The search for accounts connected to the Abacha organisation is still being pursued, especially by the judicial authorities in canton Geneva.

The Nigerian government expects funds blocked in Swiss bank accounts to be paid back by the end of next year.

But while praising the authorities, Obande criticised the Swiss banks involved in the affair. "In my mind, they should have been charged", he said.

Earlier this month, Switzerland's federal banking commission, a watchdog organisation, reprimanded 13 Swiss banks, some of them severely, for neglecting their duties when they accepted a share of the Abacha money. However, the commission has not pressed charges against any of them.

"We have to accept that decision - it is the Swiss law," Obande said.

A total of SFr108 million from one particular transaction was paid back to the Nigerian government in July. Obande said he expected the judicial wrangling over the blocked funds would be resolved - and the money paid back - before the end of 2001.

"We are in a hurry to repair the damages made during the military dictatorship," he said, assuring that all the funds recovered were being used for social purposes - education, health and the alleviation of poverty.

Transparency was the best guarantee that recovered funds did not just 'disappear' in Nigeria's huge, oil-driven budget, he said.

"From time to time the government gives information on what has been recovered, under which title it is kept in the budget, and what it is meant for. The public is always well informed."

Questions have been raised - or at least hinted at - in the Swiss press as to how serious President Obasanjo's government really is about bringing members of the Abacha clan to book.

Earlier this year, the Swiss authorities had to release $200 million they had previously been asked to block, because its owner, the Abacha associate, Gilbert Chagouri, had made a deal with the government in Abuja.

Obande said the 'agreement' with Chagouri, a Lebanese businessman, was aimed at obtaining information that would lead to the recovery of more looted funds. Chagouri has been named in the Swiss press as the person who helped Abacha's sons in 1995 open an account with Credit Suisse in Zurich - the biggest account the Abachas had with any Swiss bank.

By Markus Haefliger

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