U.S. Opposes Nigeria’s Plan To Hand Looted Funds To Kebbi State Governor, Abubakar Bagudu
The United States has opposed plans by Nigeria’s government to handover about $100 million stolen by deceased former dictator Sani Abacha to Kebbi state Governor Abubakar Bagudu.
According to reports by Bloomberg, the disagreement may hamper future cooperation between the two nations to recover state money moved offshore by Abacha.
A global civil society organisation leading the fight against corruption, Transparency International estimates that Abacha may have looted as much as $5 billion during his 1993-98 rule.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) opposed to plan saying Bagudu was involved in corruption with Abacha.
The DoJ also contends that the Nigerian government is hindering U.S. efforts to recover allegedly laundered money it says it’s traced to Bagudu.
President Buhari’s administration intends to handover the fund to Bagudu in accordance to a 17-year-old agreement that entitles Bagudu to the funds and prevents Nigeria from assisting the U.S, Bloomberg reports.
Matthew Page, an associate fellow at London-based Chatham House and former Nigeria expert for U.S. intelligence agencies revealed that;
This case illustrates how complex and contentious repatriating stolen assets to Nigeria can be. Instead of welcoming U.S. efforts, Nigeria’s lawyers appear to be supporting the interests of one of the country’s most powerful families.
Bloomberg reports that neither Bagudu nor a spokesman for Attorney General Abubakar Malami responded to requests for comment. A spokesman for Buhari said the settlement and the litigation were matters for Malami while a spokesman for the DoJ declined to comment.
Successive Nigerian governments have sought to recoup the money looted by Abacha, who died in office, and have so far repatriated more than $2 billion with the cooperation of other countries, according to U.S. court filings.
In the case involving Bagudu, the U.S. in 2013 initiated a forfeiture action against a host of assets, including four investment portfolios held in London in trust assets for him and his family, according to the district court filings.
On February 3, the DoJ in a statement said Bagudu, 58, was part of a network controlled by Abacha that “embezzled, misappropriated and extorted billions from the government of Nigeria.”
According to the court filings, Buhari’s administration stated it is bound by a settlement Bagudu reached with the administration of then-President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2003, despite the forfeiture action being initiated following a request by a state in Nigeria in 2012,
Under the terms of that agreement , which was approved by a U.K. court, Bagudu returned $163 million of allegedly laundered money to the Nigerian authorities, which in exchange dropped all outstanding civil and criminal claims against him “stemming from his involvement in government corruption,” according to a December 23 memorandum opinion by District Judge John D. Bates in Washington D.C.
That meant “Nigeria renounced any interest whatsoever” in Bagudu’s trust assets, including those the U.S. is attempting to recover for the West African nation, the opinion stated.
Bagudu was able to return to Nigeria after concluding the settlement and was elected as a senator in 2009. Six years later, he was voted in as Kebbi’s governor in elections that brought Buhari and his party to power.