Mohammed Abacha Is Acquitted By The Supreme Court

Posted by Webby on 7/12/2002 5:31:04 AM
Post Comment Mohammed Abacha Is Acquitted By The Supreme Court Nigeria
ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) -- Nigeria's Supreme Court acquitted the son of the late dictator Gen. Sani Abacha on charges of murdering the wife of a leading opponent of the junta six years ago.

The ruling Thursday was approved by five of six judges who found there was not sufficient evidence to link Mohammed Abacha with the 1996 murder of Kudirat Abiola, wife of the late presidential aspirant Moshood Abiola.

"There is nothing linking the appellant with the crimes on the indictment other than suspicion," the court said in a statement.

The court expressed misgivings about the manner in which the prosecution case had been handled, suggesting that several state witnesses could themselves have been charged in connection with the case.

A lone judge argued unsuccessfully that the trial should continue.

President Olusegun Obasanjo's government had come under intense pressure in predominantly Muslim northern Nigeria to release Abacha ahead of next year's presidential vote. The Abacha family is Muslim and from the north; Obasanjo is a southern Christian. Obasanjo has said he will run for re-election.

Throngs of youths celebrated the decision Thursday in streets near the Abacha family home in the northern city of Kano. Some chanted "Long live Mohammed Abacha" while others sang praises for Obasanjo.

Hadi al Mustapha, brother to Abacha's former security chief, called on Obasanjo to release his brother and other former henchmen of Abacha who are also awaiting trial on similar charges.

"We believe that the release of these people will go a long way to heal the wounds of the past," al Mustapha said

The court ordered that Mohammed Abacha, who has suffered numerous health problems during nearly three years in confinement, be released, but it was not clear when the order would be carried out. He continues to face civil charges including misusing government funds.

Critics have accused Obasanjo's administration of pursuing a witch hunt against Abacha's family in retribution for Obasanjo's own jailing in the mid-1990s for allegedly plotting to overthrow Abacha's regime.

In May, Obasanjo's government signed an out-of-court settlement with the Abacha family calling for the return of billions of dollars in looted funds in European banks while allowing the family to keep a $100 million share.

During five years of rule between 1993 and 1998, Abacha and his cronies imprisoned, tortured and occasionally killed political opponents and embezzled billions of dollars in state funds. He came to power after the military annulled 1993 elections which Abiola was widely believed to have won.

Obasanjo was elected in 1999, ending decades of military rule. The democratic transition was made possible by the death of Abacha of apparent heart attack a year earlier.

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