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Nigeria insisted yesterday that 458 million dollars being recovered from secret Swiss bank accounts controlled by late dictator Sani Abacha will not disappear into corruption.
ABUJA—Nigeria insisted yesterday that 458 million dollars being recovered from secret Swiss bank accounts controlled by late dictator Sani Abacha will not disappear into corruption.
Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Oknojo-Iweala joined World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz to sign an agreement with the Swiss government to release a second installment of stolen funds worth 168 million dollars.
Switzerland earlier this month transferred 290 million dollars taken from Abacha accounts that were frozen at Nigeria’s request in 1999.
It has taken time since then for the funds to work their way through the Swiss legal system, culminating in a ruling by the country’s supreme court that unblocked nearly all the remaining money.
Iweala, who has complained about the slow pace of the operation, said her government is still trying to recover an additional 50 million dollars from Swiss accounts.
But she said it has now recouped about two billion dollars looted by Abacha when he ruled Nigeria with an iron fist from 1993 until his death in 1998.
“Please remember this is money belonging to the Nigerian people and it was stolen. It’s a very sore topic. This is a government that has proven that it is transparent,” she told a news conference when pressed about corruption fears.
Of the Swiss total, the 168 million dollars is being converted into liquid assets so that it can be repaid “rapidly”, economic affairs ministry secretary of state Jean-Daniel Gerber said.
Switzerland will not allow its vaunted reputation for banking secrecy to get in the way of recovering ill-gotten proceeds, the official vowed.
“Switzerland has a fundamental interest in ensuring that it does not receive illicitly acquired assets,” he told the news conference, recalling that his government has already repaid shady money to the Philippines and to Peru.
money on health, education and rural development.
“The message is that there is no safe haven for looted funds or corrupt activities,” Wolfowitz said.
The World Bank chief joined the Nigerian and Swiss officials in calling on other countries not to “hide behind their legal systems” if asked to help in tracking down illicit funds stashed away in their banks.
Campaigners in both Switzerland and Nigeria, however, have raised doubts about where the money will end up. They have highlighted corruption fears raised by the recent arrest by British anti-fraud police of Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, governor of Nigeria’s Bayelsa State.
“Experience from Nigeria and elsewhere shows that in the absence of thorough analysis of public expenditure management, cynicism will remain,” Paul King of the Nigerian Stolen Wealth Campaign told AFP.
Sketchy documents provided by Iweala to the campaign detailing her budget plans “certainly do not instill confidence in the public statements the minister makes that the funds will be used as publicly stated”, King said.
But Iweala said the government of President Olusegun Obasanjo had proved its anti-corruption credentials beyond doubt, pointing to its agreement to take part in a World Bank-monitored review of oil revenues.
“Does this mean I’m saying the country is 100 percent free of corruption? Please show me any country that is,” she said.
“The bottom line is what are we doing about the history we have had? It is up to us to make sure this money is used wisely for our people.”
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