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Switzerland closes chapter on Abacha funds

Sani Abacha (centre) is said to have pludered more than $2.2 billion from Nigerian state coffers

(Keystone)

Officials have told Swiss banks to return to Nigeria a final $170 million (SFr217.8 million) held in accounts linked to the late dictator General Sani Abacha.

Justice ministry spokesman Livio Zanolari said the banks had been ordered to pay the funds to the Basel-based Bank for International Settlements in the past few days.

The BIS would then credit the money to the central bank of Nigeria, completing the return of all $730 million found in Switzerland.

At the end of September, the World Bank in Washington applauded the previous Swiss payment of $290 million.

The Abacha funds had been frozen in Swiss banks since 1999. The Swiss Federal Court in Lausanne approved the return last February when it rejected an appeal by the Abacha family.

Development projects

But the Swiss government said it first wanted the World Bank to guarantee the money would go towards development projects in areas such as health, education and infrastructure, as promised by Nigeria. That agreement with the World Bank has now been signed.

The final $170 million was in assets that had to be converted to cash before the transfer could be made.

In May, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo accused Switzerland of stalling on the return of the funds but Swiss officials said they were held up only because of the need to work out details with the World Bank.

The Nigerian government accuses Abacha of creating a criminal organisation after his takeover in 1993 and plundering $2.2 billion from state funds until his death of an apparent heart attack in 1998.

After he died, Swiss officials blocked accounts in Switzerland linked to Abacha and his associates, and the money has been released in stages.

Nigeria has been pushing, with some success, for the return of Abacha's looted funds from other countries, including Britain, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein and Austria.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Between 1993 and 1998, Sani Abacha is said to have plundered more than $2.2 billion from the coffers of Nigeria.

About $700 million was frozen in Switzerland in 1999.

More than $200 million of that amount was returned to Nigeria in a first payment in December 2003.

The Swiss Federal Court decided in February that a further $458 million should be returned.

The World Bank confirmed in September that Switzerland had repatriated a further $290 million.

The balance of $170 million is now being paid to Nigeria through the Bank for International Settlements in Basel.

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