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Abacha Loot ‘ll Be Returned to Nigeria –Swiss Envoy

Posted by From Cletus Akwaya and Iyefu Adoba in Abuja on 2005/01/24 | Views: 306 |

Abacha Loot ‘ll Be Returned to Nigeria –Swiss Envoy


Ambassador of Switzer-land to Nigeria, Dr. Pierre Helg, has assured that the $500 million believed to have been stolen by late military leader, Gen. Sani Abacha, and stashed in Swiss banks will be returned to Nigeria.

•'Switzerland no longer haven for stolen funds'


Ambassador of Switzer-land to Nigeria, Dr. Pierre Helg, has assured that the $500 million believed to have been stolen by late military leader, Gen. Sani Abacha, and stashed in Swiss banks will be returned to Nigeria.

The decision of the Swiss government is in disregard of appeal filed by the Abacha family against the restitution of the money.

The Abacha family reportedly made an appeal over the restitution of $500 million to Nigeria in September last year and the case is currently pending before the Swiss Supreme Court. But speaking with THISDAY, Helg said the looted funds will soon be returned to Nigeria.

"We are in the very last step of procedures and our government has said it is of criminal origin and it has to be given back to Nigeria.

"It is so obvious that it is criminal money, and even though some may say you don't even need the decision of a Supreme Court to decide that, but according to Swiss laws, the family is allowed to appeal and the case is before the highest judicial body – the Supreme Court," he said.

According to the envoy, the Swiss government regarded the restitution of the funds, as a test case that will be used to encourage other financial centers to follow suit.

"When it is obviously stolen money, there is no banking secrecy anymore, it has to be sent back. It’s a Swiss specialty to do this. We did it with former Philippines leader, Ferdinand Marcos and others," he said.

Citing World Bank figures, the diplomat said, " there is about $20 to 30 billion stolen worldwide by dictators. Some percentage of this is in Switzerland, but you also have to know that since the '80s, Switzerland is the only country fighting this kind of money, not because we are a specially moral people, but because it is in our own interest to have a clean banking system," he said.

"It is not in the interest of the reputation of the banking system and so we are really at the fore front of states fighting this kind of money," he added.
Citing an example, he said, "let's take Rolex wristwatches. In Thailand, you can get cheap imitations for $20, but obviously Swiss watch makers do not support this and in the same way our banking sector does not support stashing ill-gotten wealth because the money concerned is only a tiny percentage capable of damaging reputable bankers image."

He acknowledged that whereas in the past there were some abuses when lawyers opened bank accounts on behalf of clients, he said it is increasingly becoming difficult to hide ill-gotten wealth in the country.

According to him, as soon as money is lodged in the bank, the bank has to be able to prove that it knows the actual owner of the funds.

"So if a rich Nigerian wants to bank legally, that’s fine and banking secrecy protects that, but as soon as a banker suspects anything suspicious, he alerts authorities. Now the banks are stricter and the bank has to know the economic owner, not just the legal owner," he said.

Also, he said the transfer of illicit money will not affect the banking industry adversely. "We have about $3,500 billion lodged in banks and so the fact that we are bringing money back to Nigeria will not affect our system. Only a tiny percentage of this is dirty money," he said.

On how Swiss authorities intend to monitor and ensure that stolen funds being returned to Nigeria are spent judiciously on development projects that will benefit the poor, the envoy said while this is not a condition before the money is returned, it was a wish of the Swiss authorities.

"Its still under consideration. We are debating now how to do that. So in a few weeks or months I can answer that. So far this has not been decided, but for sure the money belongs to the Nigerian people.

However, it is just a wish and we don't have the right to dictate. I can tell you that the money belongs to Nigeria and anyway they decide to spend it is okay.

But we are interested in this case as a leading case and we will do our best to make an example with this so that next time others will think twice and we hope other banking interests will follow," he explained.

On the recent arrest of Abba, Abacha's son, after he allegedly tried to close a bank account for a front in Neuss, Germany, Helg said: "I think its a good thing because the Swiss authorities are trying to extradite him from Germany for trial in Switzerland and this could perhaps help to discover even more funds."

The first restitution of $200 million from Switzerland to Nigeria suspected to be embezzled by Abacha was supposed to have been made in 2003.
The Nigerian Government had incorporated the $200 million in the 2004 budget but the delay in remittance of the money had compounded deficit problems in the Federal budget.

According to Helg there were settlements between concerned parties at that time. There is also another outstanding $7 million, which is currently under legal investigation to determine if it’s of criminal origin. The $7 million, the envoy said, is lodged in accounts that have been frozen.

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Abieyuwa(Edo, Nigeria)says...

Otasowie means evening life is better than morning life. There is an error in your “evening life is better than evening life”?

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Naija g(Houston, Minnesota, US)says...

Sokari doesn’t mean joy. Joy is Biobela. Go to the village and ask the meaning of the name.

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Fay(Katy, Texas, US)says...

Actually translates to bravehearted.