Switzerland has given conditions for repatriating $321m looted by a former military ruler, the late Gen. Sani Abacha, to Nigeria.
Part of the conditions is that the fund would be used for projects that would benefit Nigerians and they (the projects) must be monitored by the World Bank. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffery Onyeama, said the government was working on the modalities for the repatriation.
Speaking shortly after holding a meeting with the Swiss Foreign Minister, Didier Burkhalter on Tuesday in Abuja, Onyeama explained that Nigeria had signed an agreement with the Swiss government in the area of human rights and immigration.
He said, “It is $321mn that we are looking at repatriating to Nigeria and the modalities are basically legal framework for that; mutual legal assistance framework that we are trying to put in place and there are pre-conditions that are also in place already and these require monitoring mechanism.
“So, we have to agree beforehand as a pre-condition on what the money would be used for and the World Bank would be part of the monitoring process to ensure that the money is used for the benefit of Nigerian people.”
The Minister stated that Burkhalter’s visit was significant as it marked the commencement of the fund repatriation process, noting that other looted funds might be uncovered in hidden accounts in Swiss banks.
Burkhalter said his country and Nigeria had a very constructive relation, adding that Switzerland planned to open a consulate in Lagos that would boost economic relations between the two countries.
He promised that his country would repatriate the $321mn to Nigeria, pledging Switzerland’s continued assistance to Internally Displaced Persons in the country.
Burkhalter added, “We would continue to help in the humanitarian assistance in the North, for those who are suffering and we would try to write another chapter of the history of illicit asset recovery and restitutions from Switzerland to Nigeria.
“There is a history we had already; 10 years ago, we did restitution of the Abacha fund for $700m and now, there is a possibility and already there is a decision in principle to restitute another $321m and for the Swiss government, it is very important to act swiftly, to act in a transparent way and act for the good of the population of Nigeria.
“The decision of the prosecutor of Geneva set a condition and this condition is monitoring mechanism by the World Bank; if we sign a treaty, very swift and the possibility to support social projects in Nigeria, with the monitoring of the World Bank, the money would be restituted.”
Meanwhile, the Federal Government on Tuesday signed an agreement called ‘‘Letter of Intent’’ with the Swiss government to facilitate the repatriation of the $321m.
This was contained in a statement by the Senior Special Assistant to the Vice-President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Laolu Akande.
He said the agreement was signed during a meeting Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo had with a Swiss delegation, led by Burkhalter and the Swiss Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Eric Mayoruz, at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
He added that the Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), signed the agreement on behalf of the Federal Government while Burkhalter signed on behalf of the Swiss government.
He explained that the agreement was on the restitution of illegally-acquired assets initially forfeited to Switzerland.
“Under the agreement, the Swiss government will award to Nigeria $321m of funds illicitly acquired by the Abacha family, initially deposited in Luxembourg and confiscated by the Judiciary of the Republic and Canton of Geneva, pursuant to a Forfeiture Order dated December 11, 2014,” the statement read.
While welcoming the offer to return the stolen fund, Osinbajo said the Federal Government was developing a framework that would aid the repatriation of such stolen assets.
He added that the framework would also ensure that the recovered funds were not re-looted.
“We guarantee that recovered assets would be put to uses for which they had been intended,” he said.
The Vice-President said the framework, once finalised, would be made public.
He said the document would cover the whole spectrum from the source of the stolen asset to how it would be managed once recovered.
“The framework will guarantee that returned assets will be used in the interest of the people of this country,” he added.
Commending the Swiss government on its assistance in repatriating the country’s stolen assets, the Vice-President said the Federal Government appreciated the Swiss government for its laudable efforts.
He noted that the “Swiss has always been at the forefront of returning stolen assets and ensuring that the people of Nigeria get the benefits.”