Switzerland asks Nigeria for proof of Abacha accounts

Couchepin met the Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo, last year at the world economic forum in Davos Keystone Archive

Switzerland has asked Nigeria to provide further evidence that would prove that millions of dollars were illegally diverted from the west African country and placed in Swiss bank accounts by the late dictator, General Sani Abacha, and his entourage.

This content was published on June 5, 2001 - 07:50

"Before it was easy to identify the accounts because they were in Abacha's name," said the Swiss economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, at the end of his five-day visit to Nigeria.

"However, now it's a bit more complicated because the accounts are under other names," he said. "Therefore you have to prove whether the money was indeed diverted."

Couchepin was speaking after a meeting with the Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo, in the capital, Abuja.

The Swiss minister said that it had been "easy" for Switzerland to freeze the bank accounts linked to Abacha, who died in 1998. Switzerland responded quickly to the new government's demand in 1999 and froze suspected Abacha funds worth SFr1,4 billion.

Nigeria is trying to recover some $3 billion which was deposited in accounts in London, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein and Switzerland.

During his meeting with Obasanjo, Couchepin also expressed his support for Swiss companies doing business in Nigeria.

In particular, Couchepin discussed the recent row over milk powder that had allegedly expired. The Nigerian National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) had charged the Swiss multinational, Nestlé, of importing milk powder that had passed its sell-by date.

Nestlé dismissed the allegations and conducted tests into the contested containers of milk powder which found them to still be safe for consumers.

Couchepin's visit, which also included a stop in Benin, was aimed at strengthening economic ties between the countries.

Nigeria, which is rich in oil and Africa's most populous country with 120 million inhabitants, offers many business opportunities to Swiss industry - well at least in theory.

In practice, the picture is less rosy. Frustrated by the mismanagement of the economy by successive military regimes, many Swiss enterprises have sold their Nigerian concerns, which had grown to considerable size during the oil boom of the 1970s.

Nigeria wants to reverse that trend. The country, which was ruled by military juntas for 30 of the 41 years since it gained independence from Britain, has enjoyed a rare two years of civilian government since voters elected Obasanjo, a former general and military ruler, in May 1999.

Today, Swiss foreign direct investment (FDI) in Nigeria stands at SFr30 million ($16.8 million) - a fraction of what Swiss companies have invested in countries such as South Africa (SFr1,2 billion) and Brazil (SFr5 billion).

Unlike direct investment, Swiss trade with Nigeria has seen something of an upswing, especially since the resumption of civilian rule. Imports from Switzerland to Nigeria almost doubled within a year to reach SFr600 million in 2000, although exports remained more or less constant at around SFr90 million.

However, 99.9 per cent of imports are in crude oil, Nigeria's main foreign exchange earner. Nigeria currently is Switzerland's second most important supplier of oil.

Most of the 50 Swiss enterprises which have investments in Nigeria are engaged in the chemical, electrical and construction sectors, and provide employment for roughly 6,000 workers.

Couchepin told President Obasanjo that Switzerland would make "advantageous economic reforms" with a view to supporting Swiss investors in Nigeria.

swissinfo with agencies

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