US Govt Freezes $458m Of Abacha Loot
The United States Justice Department yesterday moved to seize more than half a billion dollars of alleged corrupt proceeds from former a former Head of State, the late Gen. Sani Abacha and his associates, in what officials called the largest such action in US history
The move is coming less than a week after President Goodluck Jonathan honoured the late Head of State, with an award for “his contributions to the nation,” a move that has itself drawn wide debates amongst Nigerians.
According to a civil forfeiture complaint unsealed in the US District Court in Washington, the department wants to recover more than $550m in connection with the action.
“This is the largest civil forfeiture action to recover the proceeds of foreign official corruption ever brought by the department,” said Mythili Raman, acting assistant attorney general.
“General Abacha was one of the most notorious kleptocrats in memory, who embezzled billions from the people of Nigeria, while millions lived in poverty,” she said.
The US government has moved to freeze $313 million in accounts in the Bailiwick of Jersey and $145 million in accounts in France. There are also investment portfolios and bank accounts in the United Kingdom worth at least $100 million that the US has targeted, the official said.
Under the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative, the Justice Department seeks to seize the proceeds of foreign officials’ corruption and return the money to the harmed countries.
According to the complaint, Abacha and others systematically embezzled billions of dollars in public funds from Nigeria’s central bank on the false pretence that the funds were necessary for national security.
They withdrew the funds in cash and then moved the money overseas through US financial institutions.
Abacha and his Finance minister, Anthony Ani, also allegedly caused the government to buy Nigerian government bonds at vastly inflated prices from a company controlled by Bagudu and Mohammed Abacha. That operation created an illegal windfall of more than $282m.
In addition, Abacha and his co-conspirators allegedly extorted more than $11m from a French civil engineering company, Dumez, and its Nigerian affiliate in connection with payments on government contracts.
Funds involved in each of these schemes were laundered through the US in nine financial institutions, the complaint alleged.
The financial institutions involved include Citibank, Chase Manhattan Bank and Morgan Guaranty Trust Company, now JPMorgan Chase, and New York-based units of Britain’s Barclays Bank and Germany’s Commerzbank.
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