A tripartite Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) by Nigeria, Switzerland and the World Bank, which will pave the way for the release of the cash, was signed on Monday.
The money is part of the estimated $5billion allegedly looted by Nigeria’s former military leader, the late Gen. Sani Abacha, who was head of state between 1993 and 1998.
Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) Abubakar Malami (SAN) signed the MoU on behalf of Nigeria, according to his media aide Salihu Othman Isah in a statement yesterday.
“The modalities for the return of the stolen funds are set out in the MoU that was signed by the three parties at the Global Forum on Asset Recovery (GFAR) currently ongoing in the United States,” he said.
Isah added that Director of the Directorate of International Law, Ambassador Roberto Balzaretti, who led the Swiss delegation to the GFAR, signed for Switzerland. The Country Director of the World Bank office in Abuja, Rachid Benmessaoud, signed for the World Bank.
“The MoU stipulates that the restitution of funds will take place within the framework of a project known as the National Social Investment Programme that will strengthen social security for the poor in Nigeria.
“The MOU also regulates the disbursement of restituted funds in tranches and sets out concrete measures to be taken in the event of misuse or corruption.
“The chosen solution for restitution is being undertaken by the three contracting parties as a partnership,” he said.
Isah added that the arrangement was “in line with the objectives of Switzerland’s strategy to freeze, confiscate and return the illicitly acquired assets of politically exposed persons (asset recovery) which is based on the principles of transparency and accountability.
“It also allows the involvement of civil society in the monitoring of the restitution process. Furthermore, the return of these funds makes a concrete contribution to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and can set a good example internationally for future restitution cases.
“These assets, which were initially frozen in Luxembourg, were repatriated and confiscated by Switzerland as part of criminal proceedings brought by the public prosecutor’s office of Geneva against Abba Abacha in December, 2014.
“The signing of this MOU gives Nigeria visibility and will set precedence on the need for transparent management of returned assets internationally.
“The GFAR brought together experts from the field of asset recovery to strengthen international cooperation in this area.
“Nigeria will also use the opportunity of the GFAR meeting at the headquarters of the International Finance Corporation in Washington DC to negotiate the return of other assets and also engage in bilateral meetings with several other countries.
Other members of the Nigerian delegation to this meeting, are the Special Assistant to the President on Justice Reform and Coordinator, Open Government Partnership (OGP), Mrs. Juliet Ibekaku-Nwagwu, Nigeria/GFAR Focal Person and Assistant Director, Federal Ministry of Justice, Mrs. Ladidi Abdulkadir and A representative of civil society organisations David Ugolor of the African Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ).
The money was frozen in 2014 by a Swiss court after a legal procedure against Abacha’s son, Abba.
President Muhammadu Buhari made the recovery of stolen assets a major part of his 2015 election campaign and this will be the largest yet.
Switzerland did not say precisely when the money will be released.
“The fight against corruption is one of Switzerland’s priorities” Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter said, adding that the move should “strengthen social security for the poorest Nigerians”.
Transparency International, a corruption watchdog, has accused Abacha of stealing up to five billion dollars of public money during the five years he ran the oil-rich country
In 2014, Nigeria and the Abacha family reached an agreement for the West African country to get back the funds, which had been frozen, in return for dropping a complaint against the former military ruler’s son, Abba Abacha.
The son was charged by a Swiss court with money-laundering, fraud and forgery in April 2005, after being extradited from Germany, and later spent 561 days in custody.
In 2006, Luxembourg ordered that funds held by the younger Abacha be frozen.
The Swiss government said that Switzerland, Nigeria and the World Bank had agreed the funds will be repatriated via a project supported and overseen by the World Bank.