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No quick solution to Abacha millions

Ruth Metzler and Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo Iweala Keystone

Funds placed in Swiss banks by former Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha are unlikely to be released soon.

This content was published on November 20, 2003 - 19:02

But Switzerland has assured the Nigerian government that resolving the case is a very high priority.

The Nigerian finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, held talks in Bern with the Swiss justice minister Ruth Metzler, in the hope of speeding up the release of the money.

Abacha is believed to have deposited over SFr800 million ($615 million) of illicit funds in Swiss banks. Following his death in 1998, the Swiss government froze the funds at the request of the Nigerian authorities.

Billions missing

Nigeria believes Abacha probably siphoned off almost SFr4 billion altogether, which he invested in Britain, Luxembourg, Jersey and Liechtenstein, as well as Switzerland.

Now the Nigerian government is pressing to have the money returned as quickly as possible.

But in Switzerland, most of the SFr800 million is the subject of a money laundering case currently underway in canton Geneva, and cannot be released until the case is resolved.

The Swiss justice ministry clearly hopes Geneva will act quickly, but Heinrich Koller, director of the justice ministry said no timetable could be put on the process.

“It’s really difficult to say [when the funds will become free],” Koller told swissinfo.

“All we can do is beg the Geneva authorities to bring the case to a final [and decisive conclusion].”

Patience needed

But Koller denied that the Nigerian delegation was disappointed at leaving Bern empty handed.

“No, I wouldn’t say that,” he said. “They said the discussions were fruitful.”

“But we realize there was an expectation gap,” Koller continued.

“The finance minister of Nigeria maybe came here hoping for a political solution to this case, and we had to explain that this was not possible because we have to follow our legal framework.”

“But I think we were able to explain ourselves quite well, and there was a lot of understanding for what we are doing and how we are doing it.”

Nigeria has agreed to a Swiss request that, once the money is returned, it will be invested in rebuilding infrastructure and social services.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Former Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha is believe to have siphoned off almost SFr4 billion of his country’s money.
Around SFr800 million was invested in Swiss banks.
Most of the money is still blocked, because it is the subject of a money laundering case in canton Geneva
Nigeria has agreed to a Swiss request that, once the money is released, it will be invested in social services.

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