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Swiss put conditions on return of Abacha cash

Sani Abacha was accused of looting more than $2.2 billion from Nigeria's state coffers Keystone

Switzerland is to stagger the return to Nigeria of about $460 million (SFr568.2 million) stashed in Swiss bank accounts by the late dictator, Sani Abacha.

This content was published on May 26, 2005 - 16:49

Under conditions set by the Swiss government, the World Bank will monitor that the money is used by Nigeria for development projects.

But there are no further conditions, despite claims from Abuja that Bern had blocked return of the money until there was a solution to the problem of illegal Nigerian immigrants in Switzerland.

"It is not a condition for the return of the money," justice ministry spokesman Livio Zanolari told swissinfo.

He added that repatriation of the illegal Nigerians had been "an issue of discussion between the two countries" for several years.

Bern has decided to return about $290 million of the Abacha money in a first stage as soon as control methods are defined by the World Bank, the justice and police ministry said in a statement on Thursday.

Assets accounting for the remaining $170 million, which are currently tied-up, are to be unblocked and transferred to a separate account.

Nigeria has on several occasions assured Switzerland that the Abacha funds will be used to pay for development projects in areas such as health, education and infrastructure.

Money for infrastructure would be spent on road building, and electricity and water supply. These projects were financed as early as last year by means of a bridging loan.

Return to Nigeria

The Swiss Federal Court ruled in February that the money could be returned to Nigeria, essentially upholding a decision in August last year by the Federal Justice Office for the transfer of the money.

The country’s highest court in Lausanne was of the opinion that most of the money was clearly of criminal origin.

During his dictatorship between 1993 and 1998, Abacha is believed to have embezzled more than $2.2 billion dollars belonging to Nigeria’s central bank.

After his death in June 1998, about $700 million deposited in Swiss bank accounts was frozen. About $200 million of that was later returned to Nigeria after a decision by judicial authorities in Geneva.

Appeals by the Abacha family, who have opposed the return of the former dictator’s funds, have failed.

In mid-April, Germany extradited to Switzerland Abacha’s son Abba. He is now in a Swiss jail accused of money laundering, fraud, breach of trust and membership of a criminal organisation.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Between 1993 and 1998, Sani Abacha is said to have plundered more than $2.2 billion from the coffers of Nigeria. SFr870 million was frozen in Switzerland.
More than $200 million of that amount has since been returned to Nigeria.
Switzerland's Federal Court ruled in February that a further $458 million in frozen funds could be returned.

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