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Switzerland hailed for efforts in Nigeria money laundering probe

Britain's Financial Times newspaper says Switzerland has led the way in recovering funds salted away by Nigeria's former Abacha regime. By contrast, says the FT, Britain has done nothing to trace money laundered through London.

The FT report, published on Friday, says Switzerland "was the first to respond" to a probe commissioned by the Nigerian government to track down funds salted abroad by the late dictator, Sani Abacha, and his cronies.

The paper says the Swiss response to Nigeria's request is in marked contrast to that of the British government, which "has failed to respond more than four months after the request was made".

Correspondents say the report is a vindication of Switzerland's claims that it is serious about combating financial crime, despite the country's banking secrecy laws.

They add that it demonstrates that Switzerland is not alone in having unwittingly provided a haven for Abacha's stolen money.

Last year, the Nigerian government commissioned a Swiss lawyer, Enrico Monfrini, to ask leading financial centres to cooperate in recovering money stolen by Abacha.

The Swiss government, having already changed the law to lift banking secrecy rules in criminal investigations, responded to Monfrini's request by freezing some 130 suspect bank accounts containing $645 million (SFr1.148 billion).

An investigation into 19 Swiss banks was launched at the same time. The results, published last month, criticised six banks - including Credit Suisse - for serious shortcomings in procedures relating to the handling of funds from dubious sources.

The investigation also revealed that at least $300 million of the Abacha funds had been moved in and out of Switzerland through banks in Britain.

The FT quotes Monfrini as saying that he has now traced more Abacha money flowing through Britain than the amount believed to have come through Switzerland.

Despite this, says the FT, the British government has not even contacted the London banks believed to have handled the Abacha money.

It adds that British ministers have "lectured offshore financial centres about the iniquities of money laundering [but] have failed ... to respond to a request to cooperate with the Nigerian investigators".

It adds that the British prime minister, Tony Blair, offered full cooperation to the Nigerian government, when the president Olusegun Obasanjo visited Britain last month.

swissinfo with agencies


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