Africa

US to return $23 million looted by late dictator Abacha to Nigeria – officials

The United States will turn over to Nigeria $23 million taken by former military ruler Sani Abacha, officials said at an event to sign the agreement on Tuesday.

Nigeria has reached several agreements to return stolen cash in recent years. Abacha ruled Africa’s most populous nation and top oil exporter from 1993 until his death in 1998, during which time Transparency International estimated that he took up to $5 billion of public money. He was never charged.

US Ambassador Mary Beth Leonard said the cash was in UK accounts but was identified and frozen by US officials. She added that including the latest deal, the United States had agreed to repatriate more than $334.7 million linked to Abacha.

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Attorney General Abubakar Malami said the funds would be used for infrastructure projects, including the Abuja-Kano road, the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, and the second Niger bridge under the supervision of the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA).

“The president’s mandate to my office is to ensure that all international recoveries are transparently invested and monitored by civil society organizations to compete for these three projects within the agreed timeline,” Malami.

The US Justice Department has previously said that Nigeria must use money repatriated from funds looted by Abacha on agreed public projects or be forced to “replace” it.

In the past, Nigeria had secured the release of millions of dollars stashed in foreign accounts by the former dictator.

In 2017, the Swiss government released a statement announcing it had reached an agreement with Nigerian authorities and the World Bank on the return of $321 million to the West African country.

The released funds “will strengthen social security for the poorest sections of the Nigerian population,” the statement said at the time.

In 2019, authorities in Jersey said they had seized more than $267 million from Abacha’s family and associates. The laundered funds recovered from confiscated assets, belonging to the son of the late dictator, Mohammed Abacha, were found in a Channel Islands account held by a shell company.

The stolen funds were recovered and paid into a special recovery fund after a five-year legal battle and were agreed to be shared between the Nigerian government, Jersey, and the US government.

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