Washington, DC - The Department of Justice, on behalf of the U.S. government, has executed a trilateral agreement with the governments of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (Nigeria) and the Bailiwick of Jersey (Jersey) to repatriate to Nigeria approximately $308 million traceable to the kleptocracy of former Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha and his co-conspirators.
In 2014, U.S. District Judge John D. Bates for the District of Columbia entered judgment forfeiting approximately $500 million located in accounts around the world, as the result of a civil forfeiture complaint the Department of Justice filed against more than $625 million traceable to money laundering involving the proceeds of Abacha’s corruption. After appeals in the United States were exhausted in 2018, the government of Jersey enforced the U.S. judgment against over $308 million located in that jurisdiction.
“General Abacha and his cronies robbed Nigerians of vast public resources and abused the U.S. and international financial systems to launder their criminal proceeds,” said Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “Today’s landmark agreement returns to the people of Nigeria hundreds of millions of the embezzled monies through a lawful process that ensures transparency and accountability.”
The forfeited assets represent corrupt monies laundered during and after the military regime of General Abacha, who assumed the office of the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria through a military coup on Nov. 17, 1993, and held that position until his death on June 8, 1998. The complaint alleges that General Abacha, his son Mohammed Sani Abacha, their associate Abubakar Atiku Bagudu and others embezzled, misappropriated and extorted billions from the government of Nigeria and others, then laundered their criminal proceeds through U.S. financial institutions and the purchase of bonds backed by the United States. Jersey’s cooperation in the investigation, restraint and enforcement of the U.S. judgment, along with the valuable contributions of Nigeria and other law enforcement partners around the world, have been instrumental to the recovery of these funds.
Under the trilateral agreement signed today, the United States and Jersey will transfer 100 percent of the net forfeited assets to the Federal Republic of Nigeria to support three critical infrastructure projects in Nigeria that were previously authorized by Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari and the Nigerian legislature. Specifically, the laundered funds under this agreement will help finance the construction of the Second Niger Bridge, the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and the Abuja-Kano road – investments that will benefit the citizens of each of these important regions in Nigeria.
The agreement includes key measures to ensure the transparency and accountability, including administration of the funds and projects by the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA), financial review by an independent auditor, and monitoring by an independent civil society organization with expertise in engineering and other areas. The agreement also precludes the expenditure of funds to benefit alleged perpetrators of the corruption or to pay contingency fees for lawyers. The agreement reflects the sound principles for ensuring transparency and accountability adopted at the Global Forum on Asset Recovery (GFAR) in December 2016 in Washington, D.C., which the United States and the United Kingdom (UK) hosted with support from the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative of the World Bank and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
In addition to the more than $308 million forfeited in Jersey, the Department of Justice is seeking to enforce its forfeiture judgment against approximately $30 million located in the UK and over $144 million in France. The United States is also continuing to seek forfeiture of over $177 million in additional laundered funds held in trusts that name Abacha associate Bagudu, the current governor of Kebbi State, and his relatives as beneficiaries. The United States has asked the government of Nigeria to withdraw litigation it has instituted in the UK that hinders the U.S. effort to recover these additional funds for the people of Nigeria. The United States entered into the trilateral agreement to repatriate the Jersey assets because of its longstanding commitment to recover asset for the benefit of those harmed by grand corruption and because of the important safeguards embodied in the agreement.
This case was brought under the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative by a team of dedicated prosecutors in the Criminal Division’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section working in partnership with the FBI. Through the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative, the Department of Justice and federal law enforcement agencies seek to safeguard the U.S. financial system from criminal money laundering and to recover the proceeds of foreign official corruption. Where appropriate and possible, the department endeavors to use recovered corruption proceeds to benefit the people harmed by acts of corruption and abuse of public trust.