Restitution of Abacha loot: who benefits from the crime?

Berlin, 2 June 2015.

As Switzerland prepares to return to Nigeria US$380 million in Abacha family stolen assets that have been frozen in Luxembourg since 2006[1], the UNCAC Coalition is calling attention to the importance of asset repatriation being conducted in a transparent, accountable and inclusive manner.

According to various estimates, the late General Sani Abacha – the former head of state of Nigeria (1993-1998) – together with his family members and close associates are reported to have siphoned more than US$5 billion from Nigeria’s coffers, most of which is believed to have been stashed away around the world. However, to date, only a fraction of the assets has been recovered and returned to Nigeria. Furthermore, the conditions under which these repatriation processes took place raised much concern due to the lack of transparency and accountability.

In fact, no information is publicly available regarding the €7.5 million repatriated by Liechtenstein to Nigeria in December 2013 The only piece of information regarding the €167 million returned by Liechtenstein in June 2014 is a press statement released by the Principality indicating that the World Bank declared its willingness to monitor the use of the repatriated assets.

As for the US$500 million repatriated by Switzerland to Nigeria in the course of 2005-2006, both the report prepared by the World Bank and the “Shadow Report” produced by the Nigeria Network on Stolen Assets (NNSA) pointed out several weaknesses in the accounting and reporting mechanisms which prevented the proper tracking of the returned funds. On a positive note however, it has to be stressed that civil society was included in the monitoring process[2] – the first of its kind – and both reports highlighted that the participation of civil society was highly valuable.

The UNCAC Coalition applauds the Government of Switzerland for preparing to repatriate the Abacha assets. However, the Coalition regrets that to date neither the Swiss nor the Nigerian governments have included civil society or indicated that they will do so later in the process. And yet, it is clear that civic participation is vital for the credibility of the process.

The UNCAC Coalition further deplores the lack of information regarding the use of the funds. It is unclear whether and how the money will benefit the millions of Nigerians from which it was stolen. Transparency and accountability are of critical importance; it was the absence of these principles during the Abacha administration that helped facilitate the theft of State assets in the first place. Justice has not been served if only half of the original abuses are addressed. The need for transparency and accountability and the inclusion of civil society are especially important in this repatriation case given that it results from a controversial agreement concluded in July 2014 between the Government of Nigeria and the Abachas. The secret agreement, which has been leaked to the public, provides full immunity to the Abacha clan in exchange for the repatriation of assets held in France, Jersey, the UK, Luxembourg, and Liechtenstein to the Government of Nigeria.

While there is no doubt that Abacha loot ought to be repatriated to Nigeria, the UNCAC Coalition believes that it is equally important to ensure transparency and accountability of the whole repatriation process; and civil society participation is of critical importance to both ends. All these principles are also are in strict line with the United Nations Convention Against Convention (UNCAC; articles 9 & 13) – to which both Nigeria and Switzerland are parties.

Therefore, the UNCAC Coalition calls on:

  • Switzerland and Nigeria to establish a transparent and accountable repatriation process involving, alongside the World Bank, civil society;
  • The US Department of Justice, which has recently forfeited the above mentioned assets in France, Jersey and the UK , to ensure that any asset that would come to be repatriated to Nigeria be managed in a transparent and accountable manner (including through the participation of civil society);
  • Nigeria to provide detailed information about how the funds recovered from Liechtenstein were expended;
  • The World Bank to publish up-to-date information about any asset repatriation cases in which it is involved – both in Nigeria and beyond.

These measures are essential to ensure the credibility of the whole repatriation process.

  1. Repatriation is due to take place.
  2. Civil society participation in the monitoring process results from an agreement with Nigeria, Switzerland and the World Bank concluded in July 2005.