The United States, through the Department of Justice and FBI, forfeited approximately $23 million traceable to the corruption and money laundering of former Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha and his co-conspirators.
This money will be returned to the Nigerian people through an agreement between the Governments of the United States and the Federal Republic of Nigeria (Nigeria) signed today in Abuja, Nigeria, by U.S. Ambassador Mary Beth Leonard. This repatriation will bring the total amount forfeited and returned by the Department of Justice in this case to approximately $334.7 million.
In 2014, U.S. District Judge John D. Bates for the District of Columbia entered a judgment ordering the forfeiture of approximately $500 million located in accounts around the world, as the result of a civil forfeiture complaint for more than $625 million traceable to money laundering involving the proceeds of Abacha’s corruption. In 2020, the department repatriated over $311.7 million of the forfeited assets that had been located in the Bailiwick of Jersey. Last year, the U.K. government enforced the U.S. judgment against the additional $23 million.
“This repatriation of $23 million reflects the Justice Department’s unwavering commitment to recover and return corruption proceeds laundered through the U.S. financial system,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.
The forfeited assets represent corrupt monies laundered during and after the military regime of General Abacha, who became Head of State 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 transactions in the United States.
The United Kingdom’s cooperation in the investigation, restraint and enforcement of the U.S. judgement, along with the valuable contributions of Nigeria and other law enforcement partners around the world, including the United Kingdom’s National Crime Agency, as well as those of the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs, have been instrumental to the recovery of these funds.
Under the agreement signed today, the United States will transfer 100% 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 funds governed by this agreement will help finance 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 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 2017 in Washington, D.C., which the United States and United Kingdom hosted with support from the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative of the World Bank and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
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’s Washington Field Office.
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.