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FG, USA sign MoU to repatriate $23m Abacha loot

From Olalekan Awojodu, Abuja

The Federal Government of Nigeria and the government of the United States of America (USA) has signed an agreement for the repatriation of the sum of $23 million looted by late Head of State, General Sani Abacha.

The Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami (SAN) signed the agreement on behalf of the Federal Government, while the United States of America (USA) Ambassador to Nigeria, Amb. Mary Beth Leonard signed for the government of the United States.

Speaking at the ceremony in Abuja on Tuesday, the AGF noted that since 2016, his ministry, the United Kingdom National Crime Agency (UK NCA), the United States Department of Justice (USDOJ) have been working closely with the legal representatives of the Federal Government to finalize litigations related to the Abacha linked assets.

Following agreement between parties, Malami said, the UK High Court granted the NCA a registration and recovery order on July 21, 2021, which was sealed by the court on 4th August, 2021.

He said, “The forfeited Mecosta/Sani assets were subsequently transferred to the NCA, which on 7th February, 2022 held the sum of $23,439,724, pending the execution of the asset return agreement between the FRN and the USA”.

In line with the agreement, which was a result of the cooperation of the UK NCA, USDOJ, President Muhammadu Buhari approved the use of the funds for the on-going presidential development infrastructural funds (PIDF) projects, which include the Abuja-Kano road, Lagos-Ibadan express way and the second Niger bridge, which are being supervised by 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 organisation to complete these three projects within the agreed timeline”, he said and urged the US government not to relent in supporting Nigeria’s commitment to speedy and transparent management of returned assets.

In her remarks, the US Ambassador to Nigeria, Amb. Mary Beth Leonard said the US Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), seized the stolen funds in respect to Abacha and his associates’ violation of the US laws, when they laundered the funds through the US and into accounts to the UK.

She said, “This repatriation brings to a total amount of funds repartrated in this case by the US to more than $334.7 million. As a result of today’s agreement, $23 million will be transferred to the Nigerian government, which through the NSIA, will be used to continue the construction of three key infrastructural projects located in strategic economic zones of the country”.

While pointing out that that corruption disrupts the economy and access to key services, hinders development, pushes citizens towards extremism and make countries and their officials susceptible to malicious foreign interference, Leonard said, the US government will deny safe haven for corrupt actors and their assets.

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