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UK rebuffs Obasanjo's pleas for Abacha's loot

Posted by July 30, 2003 on 2003/07/30 | Views: 1076 |

UK rebuffs Obasanjo's pleas for Abacha's loot

Britain yesterday rebuffed Nigeria's request to speed up its efforts to freeze billions of dollars looted by former dictator General Sani Abacha.

Britain yesterday rebuffed Nigeria's request to speed up its efforts to freeze billions of dollars looted by former dictator General Sani Abacha.

The issue was expected to come up at a meeting in London yesterday between President Olusegun Obasanjo, and Tony Blair, the UK prime minister. Downing Street refused to say whether they had discussed the case, which has caused friction between the countries.

However, a British minister made clear that no further progress would be made over the return of looted funds stashed in UK banks until it received answers to a series of questions. A UK official said the two countries had agreed to create a working group to help break the impasse. In June 2000, Nigeria's government submitted a formal request to the British government to freeze funds at 19 UK banks, part of its global effort to track down up to $5bn in suspected looted funds. It also sought bank statements and other evidence necessary to repatriate funds laundered through other countries.

However, the UK government has yet to take action in the case, citing a range of technical issues. Progress was initially halted by an appeal from the late dictator's family and then by a botched settlement attempt. Now the UK government says it needs clarification on questions that Nigerian officials fear they cannot provide. They complain that the UK was being obstructive.

"There was a depth of disappointment on this side of the table at the rather difficult attitude that we saw on behalf of the British," Oby Ezekwesili, an aide to the Nigerian president, said earlier this month. Nigerian officials have contrasted the attitude of the UK government to that of the Swiss authorities who, they said, have been very co- operative in the case.

Caroline Flint, the junior Home Office minister charged with overseeing the case, said the UK was conducting further inquiries to avoid court challenges. "We are trying to co-operate as fully as possible," she said. "We need to make sure this is done properly. We hope this issue will be resolved sooner rather than later."

The British Home Office is seeking clarification on a Nigerian court ruling barring further investigations into the Abacha money. However, lawyers acting for Nigeria have pointed out that courts in Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Switzerland and Britain have already ruled that the Nigerian judge lacks competency in the case. Furthermore, some of the British demands were unreasonable given Nigeria's judicial system, Nigerian officials have said. "When they make those kinds of demands its a signal they don't care to help us," said Ms Ezekwesili. "We have huge financial gaps. If we could get back most of what was looted, it would help us substantially."

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