The Nigerian government is locked in a court battle with Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA) over control of €180 million (£150 million) that was stashed abroad by Nigeria’s former Head of State, late Gen. Sani Abacha.
By yesterday’s official exchange rate of the British Pounds Sterling at N563, as seen on the website of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the money in contention is about N84.5 billion.
The United Kingdom’s The Telegraph reported that the case was again poised to spark fresh questions about dirty money flowing through the City of London.
In the latest legal tussle over the money, generally known in Nigeria as “Abacha loot”, the report stated that Nigeria wanted the crime-fighting agency, NCA, to release funds that it froze at the request of US authorities.
In May 2020, the federal government confirmed the receipt of $311 million looted by a late dictator, Abacha, repatriated from the United States and Island of Jersey.
According to Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, “The amount increased significantly from over $308 million to over $311 million because of the interest that accrued from February 3, 2020, to 28th April, 2020, when the fund was transferred to the CBN.”
It came after the recovery of $322 million from Switzerland in 2018.
At the time, Malami noted that the government had committed that the asset would support and assist in expediting the construction of three major infrastructure projects across Nigeria, namely, Lagos – Ibadan Expressway, Abuja – Kano Road, and Second Niger Bridge.
It was estimated that from 2007 to 2020, about $1.5 billion had been returned to Nigeria from different parts of the world.
According to the latest report, American prosecutors said the money could be traced back to a suspected $2.2 billion (£1.6 billion) or more that was plundered by Abacha and his associates during the dictator’s five-year reign.
In the complex issues surrounding the repatriation of the funds, the authorities in the US sought to return the money to “the people of Nigeria”, under the so-called Kleptocracy Initiative.
But the Nigerian government was said have sought to “sidestep” the process and obtain the funds directly through an application to the High Court, in a move opposed by UK and US authorities, documents seen by The Telegraph and SourceMaterial showed.
Although Abacha died more than 20 years ago, the piles of treasure he looted from Nigerian coffers have kept cropping up, with at least $2 billion being thought to have stolen during his five years in power.
The former dictator’s spoils have been linked to dozens of offshore bank accounts over the years, as investigators unravel the intricate web he and his associates spun across the globe.
British and American authorities have been locked in talks over tens of millions of pounds of cash that investigators say can be traced to Abacha’s plundering, the investigation found.
The case, which involves a serving Nigerian politician who was one of Abacha’s top henchmen, includes cash in British bank accounts that has been frozen by the National Crime Agency.
However, the Nigerian government has brought its own legal action against the NCA in a bid to end the tussle, it has emerged.
The report stated, “It is a complicated story with many twists and turns. But the on-going struggle for ‘Abacha’s loot’ reveals the difficulty in recovering stolen funds, the frustrations of law enforcement, and the way people accused of corruption have relied on respectable law firms to argue their cases in court.”
On the modus operandi used by Abachi to execute the looting, the report stated that after seizing power in a 1993 coup, Abacha set about using his position as Nigeria’s head of state to place himself above the law and skim vast sums of money from the oil-rich nation.
In perhaps the most brazen example, he would tell advisers to make spurious requests to him for money to deal with national “emergencies”, according to US court documents.
Signed letters would then be sent to the CBN, which would provide cash, travellers’ cheques or arrange a wire transfer.
The report added, “Money was stuffed into boxes or bags and transported to Abacha’s house, before associates arranged for it to be sent abroad.
“At least $2 billion is thought to have been stolen this way, using more than 60 letters to the central bank.
“Abacha also arranged for the government to sell bonds to a company controlled by his allies before buying them back at vastly inflated prices, generating an illicit windfall of $282 million.”
Separately, the report stated that Abacha and his associates extorted French engineering firm, Dumez Group, of $97 million and used his spoils to live a luxurious lifestyle.
“Inside his many sprawling homes, he kept piles of glittering jewellery, including gold necklaces and rings, and at one stage as much as $100 million in cash,” the report noted.
However, the money Abacha and his associates plundered became the subject of an international search after the dictator’s sudden death in 1998, aged 54.
The report stated that weeks after his death, Abacha’s widow was caught trying to flee the country with 38 suitcases packed with money and his family later forfeited nearly $1 billion.
“Yet the only clues hinting at where other stashes of money could be found were a few details of secret offshore bank accounts discovered by authorities,” it said.
“Since then, the Nigerians have sought foreign help to recover as much as possible, with more than $1 billion eventually returned from Switzerland alone,” it added.
The effort has been hampered by the sheer complexity of Abacha’s dealings as well as marathon legal battles that have dragged on for years, some involving former associates.
One of the remaining cases, brought by US prosecutors, aims to recover more than $480 million, the report stressed. In just one example of the web of transactions criss-crossing the globe, they outlined in court filings how money was laundered by Abacha and his associates through bank accounts in Lagos, London, New York, Paris, Zurich, and Geneva.
The assets were stashed in banks, including Deutsche Bank, HSBC, and Banque SBA, according to the lawsuit, although there was no suggestion that the banks were involved in any wrongdoing.
The Telegraph stated, “This legal action eventually resulted in a 2020 deal to repatriate about $321 million, which had been laundered through the US banking system and then held in accounts in Jersey under the name of Doraville Properties Corporation, a British Virgin Islands company, and Abacha’s son, Mohammed.”
Meanwhile, the new development comes as Britain fights claims that it has been very tolerant of dirty money flowing through the City of London.
US officials said last month that they were concerned that deep links between the UK and several Russian oligarchs meant that sanctions issued against Moscow if it invades Ukraine could be rendered ineffective.
Last Sunday, Briish Labour MP David Lammy accused ministers of doing too little to deal with corruption in Britain.
Lammy said, “We have to fix the dirty money problem we have, this huge problem of money laundering in London, of corruption and fraud.
“There’s so much that (ministers) are not doing. Joe Biden knows it and he’s concerned.”
But simultaneously, another court tussle in the UK is happening in parallel. At stake is more than €90 million, some of which came from Abacha’s security votes fraud, according to a High Court judgement issued in 2014.
The money is said to be controlled by a Singapore-based trust set up for the benefit of the family of Abubakar Bagudu, the serving governor of Kebbi State, who is accused of playing an “instrumental role” in many of Abacha’s corrupt schemes by US prosecutors.
Bagudu has always denied any wrongdoing. His office did not respond to a request for comment, the report said.
His brother, Ibrahim, is a director of two companies known as Blue Holdings that are owned by the Singapore trust.
According to the Pandora Papers, a leaked cache of documents obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists last year, the Bagudu brothers enlisted Farrer & Co, an elite London law firm that has advised the Queen, to help them set up these businesses.
They moved €98 million from a British Virgin Islands trust to a new structure spanning Singapore and the Cook Islands.
Farrer & Co said it carried out “extensive due diligence” on Bagudu and that it obtained approval from the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), the precursor to the NCA, to move the funds.
According to sources familiar with the case, the amount controlled by the Singapore trust may now have grown to as much as €180 million. It is kept in accounts at Waverton Investment Management and James Hambro & Partners, both based in London.
The NCA has been working with American authorities in a bid to confiscate the funds and return them to “the people of Nigeria,” the report stated.
However, the Nigerian government wants them to be returned directly to the country and the parties, including lawyers for Bagudu, have been holding negotiations about a possible settlement, court filings in the US show.
Bagudu struck a deal with the Nigerian government in 2003, in which he agreed to return a sum of money but made no admission of wrongdoing, and the agreement was reaffirmed by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari in 2018. What this means, according to the report, is that almost 70 per cent of the UK money could be handed to Bagudu if returned.
Court filings showed the Nigerian government subsequently sought to unlock the funds and repatriate them in legal action against the NCA – a move that was opposed by the UK and US.
The country hired Kingsley Napley, the London law firm famed for representing a host of celebrities, including Rebekah Vardy, to represent it. The firm and the NCA both declined to comment, the report noted.
The report quoted Spotlight on Corruption, a non-profit campaign group, as saying that the case raises questions about whether, “law enforcement is being paid and resourced enough to get its act together”.
It accused the NCA of having effectively “cleaned” the money by approving the transfer to Singapore and warned against returning cash to Bagudu.
However, Jonathan Benton, a former NCA senior detective who now runs consultancy Intelligent Sanctuary, said the case also underlined the sheer complexity of efforts to reclaim Abacha’s loot.
Benton stated, “I care passionately about tackling corruption and it is important we hold people to account.
“But it can be a challenging and drawn-out process and sometimes you have to be pragmatic. In those situations, the law allows you to negotiate. It is repugnant. But Nigeria desperately needs the money that Abacha stole.”
Nigerian students’ association threatens to shut down all international airports over prolonged ASUU’s strike
The National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) Southwest Zone D has threatened to shut down all international airports over the failure of the Nigerian government to address the lingering strike action of the Academic Staff Union of Universities and other staff unions.
Coordinator of the NANS Zone D, Adegboye Olatunji in a statement said the students had waited long enough for the government to resolve the crisis.
He added that students would take the bull by the horns and no longer keep quiet, pointing out that President Muhammadu Buhari’s position on the crisis could ruin their future.
The statement read, “It is timely and urgent to address this press conference today with a view to putting an end to the long lingering strike action of ASUU and ASUP (Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics), a total reformation of the educational sector.
“The Leadership of the National Association of Nigerian Students Southwest (Zone D) in conjunction with the National Association of University Students Southwest (NAUS) has taken it upon herself to categorically stand against the dilapidated state of the educational sector in Nigeria.
“We are at a time when Nigerian Students have lost hope and do not know what’s next on the radar. ASUU strike has been on for over 3 months without forgetting the ASUP warning strike of 2 weeks.
“We have also waited for long to see if the Federal Government will dance to the music of Nigerian students who have been clamouring for an end to the ASUU strike but the reverse is the case. We’ve had several press conferences, granted several interviews, and held several meetings to plead with both ASUU and Federal Government. Our future is been jeopardised. We’re in a country where age is a key factor in labour market.
“Aviation unions gave a 2-day warning strike on shut down of flight operations. A meeting was scheduled by the Federal Government and strike action was called off in less than 24hours because the first-class citizens would be affected. But it is so obvious that none of them is affected by ASUU/ASUP Strike. They have their children all over the world enjoying a smooth educational system.
“On Monday, May 16th, 2022, the Accountant General of the Federation, Ahmed Idris was arrested over alleged money laundering and diversion of public funds of at least N80 Billion by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Where is the integrity of the government preaching against corruption? How much of the public funds would have settled the educational sector and put an end to the yearly ASUU/ASUP Strike action.
“For so long, ASUU/ASUP strike has been ongoing and the Federal Government has not been showing concern through the Minister of Education.
“We are ready to take the bull by the horns as Nigerian students will not keep silent and watch our future being ruined by the prolonged ASUU/ASUP Strike.
“According to the Commandment of Solidarity, we’re on the last C of ALUTA which is Confrontation. This is the time to call on all Nigerian students across all zones to come out in mass to take over all international airports in the country. Nigerian students are tired of the long-overdue strike action.
“The leadership of the National Association of Nigerian Students Southwest (Zone D) in conjunction with the National Association of University Students (NAUS) hereby declares a massive protest to shut down all international airports in Nigeria. We must state categorically to the Federal Government that all activities shall be shut down by over twenty-two million five hundred and twenty-seven (22,575,000) Nigerian students across Southwest Nigeria until ASUU / ASUP Strike is called off totally.”
VIDEO: Tension as Okada riders, policemen clash in Lagos
There is tension in the Ojo Local Government Area of Lagos over an attempt by policemen to enforce the state government ban on the operation of commercial motorcycle operators also known as Okada riders.
The state government had on Wednesday issued a total ban on the activities of the Okada riders in six local government areas of the state over the killing of a sound engineer, David Imoh, at Lekki.
Policemen from Onireke Police Station, Ojo, had impounded some commercial motorcycles for operating along the Mile 2 – Badagry expressway, an action which the riders resisted.
The riders attempted to overrun the station and possibly set free some of their members who were arrested by the policemen.
The riders set fire in the middle of the road, while the owners of vehicles abandoned them by the side of the road due to the chaos.
The crisis led to a stampede as pedestrians fled for fear of being caught up in the crossfire.
Moreso, the incident created heavy vehicular movement on both sides of the road.
While the policemen fired several shots into the air to disperse the commercial motorcycle operators, the riders themselves pelted the officers with stones, daring the policemen to come after them.
A yet to be ascertained number of persons sustained different wounds as they tried to run away from the trouble zone.
Presently, a combined team of anti-riot policemen and some soldiers have been deployed to return normalcy to the area.
WATCH THE VIDEO OF THE CLASH BELOW:
Army Major commits suicide 3 days to court-martial verdict
A former Battalion Commanding Officer who led the fight against Boko Haram in the North East, Major UJ Undianyede, is said to have committed suicide.
According to sources, he killed himself less than 72 hours to the verdict of a court-martial trying him for alleged military infractions during the war.
The sources, who confirmed the incident last night, said the Major killed himself on Monday on the premises of the Nigeria Defence Academy (NDA) in Kaduna, with his service pistol.
“I think he killed himself because of the judgment of the court-martial which has been fixed for tomorrow (today, May 19). We only learnt about his death today (Wednesday).
“In prosecuting the war, the Major with some of his colleagues allegedly committed some infractions for which he was being tried at the 1 Division in Kaduna,” one of the sources said.
The offences listed against the deceased officer by the court martial in the 1 Division included misappropriation of funds, abandonment of military post, insubordination, and desertion, among others.
Another source attributed the Major’s death to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), noting that he had been in the North East for some time battling Boko Haram terrorists.
The Major, a Course 55 Regular Officer and other members of his class, were said to be due for promotion to the rank Lieutenant Colonel this September.
When contacted, the spokesman of the Nigerian Army, Brig.-Gen. Onyema Nwachukwu, said he had not been briefed.
However, the Public Relations Officer of the NDA, Major Bashir Jajira, dismissed the report, saying no officer of the academy was involved in suicide.
“No personnel of the academy was involved in suicide as reported, and in fact, our cadets are presently in Kachia for combat shooting training, they are not in the academy. So, no such training took place.”
In the same vein, the Assistant Director, Army Public Relations, 1 Division Headquarters, Kaduna, Major Musa Yahaya stated that he was not aware of any court-martial taking place in the division as earlier reported.
- Nigerian students’ association threatens to shut down all international airports over prolonged ASUU’s strike
- VIDEO: Tension as Okada riders, policemen clash in Lagos
- PHOTOS: Ganduje removes Kwankwaso red cap from supporter’s head, replaces it with Tinubu’s cap
- Army Major commits suicide 3 days to court-martial verdict
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