US freezes $458m hidden by Nigerian ex-leader

Fortune of Sani Abacha earned through corruption and kept in bank accounts around the world, US officials say.

    US authorities said Sani Abacha's corruption proceeds were stashed away in Britain, France and Jersey [AFP]
    US authorities said Sani Abacha's corruption proceeds were stashed away in Britain, France and Jersey [AFP]

    The United States has frozen more than $458m that former Nigerian leader Sani Abacha and his conspirators obtained through corruption and hid in bank accounts around the world, the US Justice Department said.

    About $313m was restrained in bank accounts in the Bailiwick of Jersey and $145 million was restrained in bank accounts in France, the department said in a statement on Wednesday.

    The department said it was pursuing additional holdings in the United Kingdom with an expected value of at least $100m, but that the exact amount would be determined later.

    Abacha died in 1998 at age 54. Nigeria has for years been fighting to recover his money, but companies linked to the Abacha family have gone to court to prevent repatriation.

    The former military dictator looted between $3bn and $5bn of public money during his five-year rule of Africa's top oil producer from 1993 to 1998, according to Transparency International.

    Overseas bank accounts

    In November, the US Justice Department filed a lawsuit seeking the recovery of money that had been identified in overseas bank accounts.

    A judge in Washington, DC, unsealed the lawsuit on Wednesday.

    Named with Abacha as conspirators in the suit were his son Mohammed Sani Abacha and Abubakar Atiku Bagudu, whom the suit called their associate.

    They laundered money through the purchase of bonds backed by the United States using US financial institutions, according to prosecutors.

    Last month, US arrest warrants for the assets were enforced in France as well as in the Bailiwick of Jersey off the coast of Normandy, through mutual legal assistance requests and in the United Kingdom through litigation, the Justice Department said.

    The assets were held in banks including Deutsche Bank, HSBC and Banque SBA, according to the lawsuit.

    The lawsuit also seeks the forfeiture of five corporate entities registered in the British Virgin Islands.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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