The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, represented the federal government at the agreement signing ceremony held at the Federal Ministry of Justice in Abuja on Tuesday.
Mary Leonard, U.S. ambassador to Nigeria, signed the agreement on behalf of her country.
She said $23 million adds to the $311.7 million Abacha loot repatriated from the U.S. to Nigeria in 2020.
Mr Malami, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), said the decision to return the fresh tranche totalling $23,439,724, which he termed ‘Abacha-5’, was a product of series of tripartite negotiations between Nigeria, the U.S. Department of Justice and the UK National Crime Agency, NCA.
“It is worthy to note that in line with the terms of this Agreement, Mr. President had already approved the funds to be utilized for the ongoing Presidential Development Infrastructural Funds, PIDF, projects namely; Abuja-Kano Road, Lagos–Ibadan Express Way and the Second Niger Bridge under the supervision of Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority, NSIA.
“The President’s mandate to my office is to ensure that all international recoveries are transparently invested and monitored by civil society organization to compete these three projects within the agreed timeline,” the AGF explained.
How Nigeria negotiated return of stolen funds
At agreement signing ceremony, Mr Malami recalled the various efforts of the Nigerian government since 2016 to recover the assets.
“You may all recall that since 2016, the Federal Ministry of Justice (FMOJ), the UK National Crime Agency (NCA) and the U.S. Ministry of Justice (USDOJ) have been working closely with the legal representatives of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to finalize litigations related to Abacha linked assets,” the Justice Minister said.
“Further to the agreement between the parties, the UK High Court granted the NCA a Registration and Recovery Order, dated 28 July 2021 and sealed by the court on 4 August 2021.
“The forfeited Mecosta/Sani assets were subsequently transferred to the NCA which, on 7th of February 2022 held the sum of $23,439,724 pending the execution of the asset return agreement agreed between the FRN and the USA.
“Following the court order, the FRN and the USA have negotiated and finalised the terms of the asset return agreement,” Mr Malami explained.
Repatriated funds to build infrastructure
A major condition for repatriating the looted assets is that the Nigerian government must deploy the funds in funding infrastructure.
“It is worthy to note that, in line with the terms of this agreement, Mr. President (Muhammadu Buhari) has already approved the funds to be utilized for the on-going Presidential Development Infrastructural Funds (PIDF) projects, namely Abuja-Kano Road, Lagos-lbadan Express Way and the Second Niger Bridge under the supervision of Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA),” Mr Malami said.
He urged the US government to support Nigeria in the efficient and transparent utilisation of the returned funds.
“As partners in the global effort to promote an effective implementation of the United Nations Convention against Corruption, and against the background of constrained economic resources, I urge you to support us in meeting these critical priorities of the FRN by working with us to finish the projects already agreed under the 2020 tripartite agreement among Nigeria, USA, and the Bailiwick of Jersey for the benefit of Nigeria and its citizens,” the minister said.
On her part, the U.S. Ambassador disclosed that the $23.4 million brings it to over $334.7m so far repatriated to Nigeria in the Abacha loot.
‘U.S. law enforcement will continue to deny safe-heavens for corrupt actors’
In her remarks, Ms Leonard expressed her gratitude for representing the U.S. “to finalise the agreement for the repatriation of approximately $23 million worth of additional assets stolen by former dictator, Sani Abacha and his associates from the Nigerian people and will be returned to the Nigerian people.”
She restated her country’s resolve to tackle money laundering.
“The U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation seized these funds in response to General Abacha and his associates’ violation of US laws when they laundered these assets through the US and into accounts in the United Kingdom.
“These actions were flagrant breach of the Nigerian people’s trust, but today is the result of an extensive and high-level corporation between the U.S., the UK and the Federal Republic of Nigeria to make the Nigerian people whole.
“This agreement is also a kind of collaboration that our government must continue in order to right the wrongs committed under the previous regimes, combined with a $311.7m seized and repatriated with the assistance of the Bailiwick of Jersey and the government of Nigeria in 2020.
“This repatriation brings to the total amount of funds repatriated in this case by the US to more than $334.7m.
“As a result of today’s agreement, $23m will be transferred to the Nigerian Government, which through the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) will use the funds to continue the construction of three key infrastructural projects located in strategic economic zones throughout the country- the 2nd Niger Bridge, Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and the Abuja-Kano Road.
“In other words, these recovered criminal proceeds, like the $311.7m previously seized and repatriated, will be transformed into visible and impactful representation of the possibilities of government assets that directly improve the lives of average Nigerians.
“The U. S. government is keenly aware of the devastating impact corruption has on societies. Corruption erodes trust and the ability of governments to deliver to their citizens.
“It distorts the economies and access to key services. It hinders development, pushes citizens towards extremism and makes countries and their officials susceptible to malicious foreign interference.
“It is in recognition of the role corruption plays in undermining democracy that the US considers the fight against corruption as a core national security interest.
“U.S. law enforcement will continue to deny safe-heavens for corrupt actors and their assets.
“Our agreement today also serves to reaffirm the important role Nigerian Civil Society plays in combating corruption.
“Among other things, it provides for both independent auditor as well as independent CSO monitor within Nigeria to track the expenditure of these recovered funds.
“As a partner, deeply interested in Nigeria’s success, we will continue to do our part to facilitate the recovery and return of the proceeds of corruption to the Nigerian people,” Ms Leonard explained.
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