Friday, February 26, 2021

Sani Abacha – the hunt for the billions stolen by Nigeria’s ex-leader

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Sani Abacha turned Nigeria’s head of state in a army coup in 1993When Nigeria’s then-head of state Sani Abacha stole billions of {dollars} and died earlier than spending his loot, it prompted a global treasure hunt unfold over a long time. The man employed to get the cash again tells the BBC’s Clare Spencer how the search took over his life.In September 1999, Swiss lawyer Enrico Monfrini answered a telephone name that might change his subsequent 20 years.”He called me in the middle of the night, he asked me if I could come to his hotel, he had something of importance. I said: ‘It’s a bit late but OK.’”The voice on the tip of the road was that of a high-ranking member of the Nigerian authorities.’Can you discover the cash?’Mr Monfrini says the official was despatched to Geneva by the Nigerian president on the time, Olusegun Obasanjo, to recruit him to pay money for the cash stolen by Abacha, who dominated from 1993 till his demise in 1998.As a lawyer, Mr Monfrini had constructed up a Nigerian shopper base because the 1980s, working in espresso, cocoa and different commodities.He suspects these purchasers really helpful him.”He asked me: ‘Can you find the money and can you block the money? Can you arrange that this money be returned to Nigeria?’”I mentioned: ‘Yes.’ But the truth is I did not know a lot in regards to the work at the moment. And I needed to study in a short time, so I did.”To get started, the Nigerian police handed him the details of a few closed Swiss bank accounts, which appeared to be holding some of the money Abacha and his associates had stolen, Mr Monfrini wrote in the book Recovering Stolen Assets.He said that a preliminary investigation published by the police in November 1998 found that more than $1.5bn (£1.1bn) was stolen by Abacha and his associates.’Dollars by the truckload’One of the methods used for accumulating such a colossal sum was particularly brazen.Abacha would tell an adviser to make a request to him for money for a vague security issue.He then signed off the request which the adviser would then take to the central bank, which would hand out the money, often in cash.Story continuesThe adviser would then take most of that money to Abacha’s house.Some was even taken in dollar notes “by the truckload”, Mr Monfrini wrote.This was just one way Abacha and his associates stole huge amounts of money. Other methods ranged from awarding state contracts to friends at highly inflated prices and then pocketing the difference and demanding foreign companies pay huge kickbacks to operate in the country.Abacha stole more than a billion dollars by pretending the money was needed for “safety”This went on for around three years until everything changed when Abacha died suddenly, aged 54, on 8 June 1998.It is unclear whether he had had a heart attack or was poisoned because there was no post-mortem, his personal doctor told the BBC.Abacha died before spending the stolen billions and a few bank details served as clues as to where that money was stashed.”The paperwork displaying the historical past of the accounts gave me a couple of hyperlinks to different accounts,” said Mr Monfrini.Armed with this information he took the issue to the Swiss attorney general.And then came a breakthrough.Mr Monfrini successfully argued that the Abacha family and their associates formed a criminal organisation.This was key because it opened up more options for how the authorities could deal with their bank accounts.Who was Sani Abacha?Picture dated 30 August shows Nigerian President General Sani Abacha at the last session of the summit meeting of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Abuja. Britain ruled out 22 October allowing a Nigerian delegation to attend the next Commonwealth summit scheduled to begin 24 October in Edinburgh. “They would want visas to recover from right here and underneath the current restrictions they’d be unable to acquire them”. Nigeria was suspended from the Commonwealth after the execution of nine human rights activists in November 1995.Fought in Nigeria’s army during the civil warKey player in two coups before becoming minister of defence in August 1993Became head of state in a military coup in November 1993His government accused of widespread human rights abusesNigeria suspended from The Commonwealth after execution of nine human rights activists in 1995Died unexpectedly on 8 June 1998, at 54 years oldFather to 10 childrenRead moreThe attorney general issued a general alert to all the banks in Switzerland demanding that they disclose the existence of any accounts opened under the Abachas’ names and aliases.”In 48 hours, 95% of the banks and different monetary establishments declared what that they had which appeared to belong to the household.”This would uncover a web of bank accounts all over the world.”Banks would ship paperwork to the prosecutor in Geneva and I’d do the job of the prosecutor as a result of he did not have time to do it,” Mr Monfrini told the BBC.’Bank accounts talk a lot’”We would discover out on every account precisely the place the cash got here from and/or the place the cash went to.”Showing the ins and outs on these bank accounts gave me further information regarding other payments received from other countries and sent to other countries.”So it was like a snowball. It began with a couple of accounts, after which a considerable amount of accounts, which in flip created a snowball impact indicating an enormous worldwide operation.”Bank accounts and the documents that go with them talk a lot.”We had a lot proof of various cash being despatched right here and there, Bahamas, Nassau, Cayman Islands – you title it.”The size of the Abacha network meant a huge effort for Mr Monfrini.”Nobody appears to know how a lot work it entails. I’ve to pay so many individuals, so many accountants, so many different attorneys in several nations.”Mr Monfrini had agreed a commission of 4% on the money sent back to Nigeria. A rate he insists was comparably “very low cost”.Intrigue surrounds Abacha’s sudden death in 1998Finding the money turned out to be relatively quick in comparison to getting it returned to Nigeria.”The Abachas have been preventing like canines. They have been interesting about every part we did. This delayed the method for a really very long time.”Further delays came as Swiss politicians argued over whether the money would just be stolen again if it was returned.Some money was returned from Switzerland after five years.Mr Monfrini wrote in 2008 that $508m found in the Abacha family’s many Swiss bank accounts was sent from Switzerland to Nigeria between 2005 and 2007.By 2018, the amount Switzerland had returned to Nigeria had reached more than $1bn.Other countries were slower to return the cash.”Liechtenstein, as an example, was a disaster. It was a nightmare.”In June 2014, Liechtenstein did eventually send Nigeria $277m.Six years later, in May 2020, $308m held in accounts based in the Channel Island of Jersey was also returned to Nigeria. This only came after the Nigerian authorities agreed that the money would be used, specifically, to help finance the construction of the Second Niger Bridge, the Lagos-Ibadan expressway and the Abuja-Kano road.Some countries are yet to return the loot.Mr Monfrini is still expecting $30m he says is sitting in the UK to be returned, along with $144m in France and a further $18m in Jersey.That should be it, “however you by no means know”, he says.In total, he says his work secured the restitution of just more than $2.4bn.”At the start individuals mentioned Abacha stole at the very least $4-$5bn. I do not imagine it was the case. I imagine we roughly took essentially the most, took a really giant chunk, of what that they had.”He has heard rumours that the Abacha family are not so wealthy any more.Or, as he puts it: “They usually are not swimming in cash like they used to do previously.”When he looks back, he seems satisfied with his work.”When I converse to my very many youngsters about this case, I inform them I discovered cash and I blocked the cash, I persuaded the authorities to go after these individuals and get the cash again to the nation for the nice of the Nigerian individuals.”We did the job.”

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