The United States on Wednesday disclosed that it ordered a freeze on $458 million in assets stolen by former Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha and his accomplices. The said loot is hidden in European accounts. The Justice Department said the corruption proceeds — stashed away in bank accounts in Britain, France and Jersey — were frozen at Washington’s request with the help of local authorities.
Abacha died in office in 1998, but his surviving relatives still include some of the richest and most influential figures in Africa’s most populous nation. One of the former military ruler’s sons aspired to govern Kano, their home state years back.
According to a civil forfeiture complaint unsealed in the US District Court in Washington, the department wants the recover more than $550 million 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 Justice Department said the assets frozen — along with additional assets named in the complaint — represent the “proceeds of corruption” during and after the military regime of Abacha, who became president of Nigeria through a military coup on November 17, 1993 and held that office until his death on June 8, 1998.
The complaint alleges that Abacha, his son Mohammed Sani Abacha, their associate Abubakar Atiku Bagudu and others “embezzled, misappropriated and extorted billions from the government of Nigeria and others, then laundered their criminal proceeds through the purchase of bonds backed by the United States using US financial institutions.”
Raman said that the action sends a “clear message” that the United States is “determined and equipped to confiscate the ill-gotten riches of corrupt leaders who drain the resources of their countries.”