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Abacha Loot: Nigerian Government Responds To Transparency International

Source: thewillnigeria.com

The federal government of Nigeria through the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Adoke, Thursday responded to criticisms from global anti-graft agency, Transparency International, over its withdrawal of charges bordering on theft of millions of dollars belonging to the Nigerian state, against Mr. Mohammed Abacha, the son of corrupt deceased military head of state, General  Sani Abacha.

The statement below is the full text of the government's position.

'ABACHA LOOT': THE JONATHAN ADMINISTRATION IS DOING ITS BEST FOR THE COUNTRY- CURRENT AND EXPECTED RECOVERIES CLOSE TO A BILLION UNITED STATES DOLLARS

1.      Our attention has been drawn to the recent statement by Transparency International (TI) criticizing the very robust efforts of the Jonathan administration towards the recovery of stolen assets from the Abacha family and its associates.

2.     In the Statement, TI accused the government of encouraging impunity by allowing the Abacha family to be set free because 'allowing the theft of public funds to go unpunished sends the wrong message that those with powerful connections can act with impunity.' It also added that 'the case should have been fully prosecuted, and the government has not given adequate reasons for dropping the charges.'

3.      We wish to state that the statement is not only an unfortunate rush to judgment without the benefit of facts, but also, that nothing could be further from the truth. The Federal Government of Nigeria is currently pursuing recovery proceedings against the Abacha family and its associates in Liechtenstein, Luxemburg, and the United Kingdom. The Federal Government of Nigeria has also made a request for Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal matters to the United States of America in respect of the stolen assets within that jurisdiction.

4.      Government is also working assiduously with the Department of Justice of the United States in respect of the forfeiture proceedings it commenced against the Abacha family and its associates. The proceedings will make it possible for the Abacha family and its associates to forfeit over $550million and £95,910 Pounds sterling in 10 accounts and six investment portfolios linked to the Abachas in France, Britain, British Virgin Islands and the United States

5.      It is therefore unfortunate that a respected international body like TI can ignore the clear facts of our recent history and the Jonathan administration's track record on this matter to engage in this kind of baseless criticism. It is beyond doubt that the Jonathan administration has handled cases involving the so-called 'Abacha loot' in a manner that protects the best interests of the country, while adhering to international best practices applicable to such cases.

6.      The incontrovertible facts are that the efforts to retrieve the 'Abacha loot' predate this administration and have been on going over 16 years with varying degrees of success. However, it is the efforts of the Jonathan administration in this respect that has 'put the icing on the cup cake.' As a result of the effective strategies adopted by this administration and the pressure brought to bear on the Abacha family and its associates through sustained recovery proceedings in various jurisdictions, a significant increase, both in the quantum and rate of recoveries has been recorded.

7.      The criminal proceedings instituted against the family and their associates have forced them to back down from contesting the cases filed by the Federal Government of Nigeria to recover stolen assets in Liechtenstein, Luxemburg, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. The Abacha family has also withdrawn their appeal before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasburg seeking to set aside the forfeiture orders made against them and their associates in Liechtenstein.

8.      The aforementioned steps have led to the recovery of 226.3 million US Dollars from Liechtenstein in addition to the 7.5 Million Euros that was recovered from an associated company of the Abachas' in Liechtenstein in 2011. It will also be recalled that in 2011, the Federal Government was able to recover and repatriate through negotiated settlement with the Jersey, the sum of 22.5 million pounds confiscated from an associate of the Abacha family by the Island of Jersey.

9.      It is pertinent to state that the recent withdrawal of the criminal proceedings against Mohammed Abacha in Nigeria will facilitate the recovery of the sum of $380 Million US Dollars from the Luxembourg proceedings and $550 Million US Dollars from forfeiture proceedings instituted by the US Department of Justice. This is because the Abacha family has not only undertaken not to contest the proceedings, but to also cooperate fully with the Federal Government of Nigeria in the recovery proceedings. It is therefore clear from the foregoing that the suggestion that 'the Abachas have been allowed to get away with little loss' is totally false and at variance with the facts.

10,    A key objective in the prosecution of corruption cases is the deprivation of the criminal offender of the proceeds of crime. This is achieved by the taking away of such proceeds of crime by the State (regurgitation and restitution). This principal objective has been achieved to a very significant degree in the Abacha proceedings. While the yearnings for criminal sanctions in form of custodial sentences against the Abacha family is understandable, it should be appreciated that this is a case that has lingered for over 16 years.

11.    It is therefore important to understand that this is not a straightforward case where conviction is assured. The standard of proof in criminal cases of this nature, which is'proof beyond reasonable doubt' poses great difficulty for the prosecution as any shadow of doubt is resolved in favour of the accused person.

12.    This much was appreciated by the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo, GCFR when it entered into a Global Settlement Agreement with the Abacha family.  What the administration of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GCFR has done is to ensure that government gets the best deal it can get, in the circumstance.  To this end, this administration has worked closely and consulted widely with experts, international partners including global development agencies on these criminal proceedings and it is clear from the feedback received, that there is no doubt that the Jonathan administration has, within the constraints imposed by this case, done its best to protect the interest of the country.

13.    The blanket criticism by TI, which has little bearing on the facts, is therefore unfortunate. The singling out of Nigeria for criticism by TI for adopting measures, which are globally used in cases of this nature and which have produced good results for the country is unfair. The federal Ministry of Justice therefore wishes to assure the Nigerian public that it will at all times be guided by national Interest, the need to promote transparency and accountability and international best practices in the Ministry's dealings with the Abacha family and indeed, all such recovery proceedings.

Ambrose Momoh
Chief Press Secretary to the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice.