US lawyers seek repatriation of Abacha loot to Nigeria

Abuja, 19 March 2014, SERAP.

Two US senior lawyers and professors of law have asked the Eric Holder, Jr. the Attorney General of United States of America to without delay repatriate the sum of $458 million assets allegedly stolen by the former dictator late General Sani Abacha and his accomplices.

The lawyers Alexander Sierck and Nicholai Diamond of Cameron LPP in Washington DC sent the letter dated 18 March 2014 as Volunteer Counsel for Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).

In the letter titled ‘Re: Abacha Kleptocracy Forfeiture Action’, the lawyers said “SERAP respectfully requests that the U.S. Department of Justice establish a general process for the repatriation of assets seized as part of its Kleptocracy Initiative. SERAP’s request arises in the specific context of the Department’s March 6, 2014 announcement that it has frozen more than $458 million in corruption proceeds, which have been hidden in bank accounts around the world by former Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha and conspirators, to implement the civil forfeiture complaint filed in federal district court here in Washington. As the Department stated in its press release announcing the seizure, these seized funds properly belong to the citizens the kleptocrats ostensibly served.”

According to the lawyers, “Even though the Department has only recently filed the civil forfeiture complaint regarding the Abacha-related assets, SERAP respectfully submits that its request is nonetheless timely in regard to such assets. This is because in many such cases, the kleptocrats owning the seized property do not appear in the U.S. to contest the seizure because they would then subject themselves to personal jurisdiction in the underlying criminal case that might be filed against them. Thus, at some point, perhaps by the end of 2014, there will be a default on the Abacha asset seizure, consequently freeing up the assets for repatriation to or for the benefit of Nigeria and its citizens.”

“SERAP notes that in a September 19, 2011 interview with the Main Justice blog, Jennifer Shasky, speaking on behalf of the Department’s Kleptocracy Initiative, stated that: the Department has no [legal] obligation to repatriate assets subject to civil forfeiture, but that the Department is committed to finding ways to repatriate or otherwise use such funds for the benefit of the victim country. SERAP assumes that this is still the Department’s position,” the lawyers also said.

They also noted that, “on March 15, 2012, SERAP filed a letter with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s Enforcement Division seeking comparable repatriation of civil fines paid in connection with Foreign Corrupt Practices Act settlements. In particular, SERAP proposed that such fines be repatriated to or for the benefit of the people of the victim country in the event that the SEC determined not to pay such proceeds directly to the government where officials were apparently bribed. To that end, SERAP proposed that such funds might be conveyed to a reliable U.S. or Nigerian charitable organization to be spent on health care, for example, subject to anti-corruption safeguards.”

The lawyers also “requests that the Department publish for public comment a proposal for the disposition of such seized assets, not just in the Abacha context but in all such Kleptocracy Initiative cases. In SERAP’s judgment, the Department’s proposal ought to explain:

  • When and under what circumstances the Department will “foreclose” on such seized, and presumably defaulted, assets.
  • Whether and when the Department will provide public notice of such foreclosure.
  • Whether, following such foreclosure, the Department will provide public notice, of 90 days for example, for requests for repatriation to be filed.
  • The criteria the Department would consider, on its own or in response to a request, in deciding whether to repatriate such funds; such criteria might include (i) the integrity of the relevant foreign government, (ii) that government’s proposed uses of such repatriated funds, including anti-corruption safeguards, and (iii) where and under what circumstances the Department would prefer to repatriate such funds to a charitable organization for public benefit purposes, e.g., healthcare, in the victim country.”


Adetokunbo Mumuni
SERAP Executive Director