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Tracking Abacha's Stolen Billions

Last Updated: 9/11/2006 11:19:37 AM

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ClickAfrique takes a look at how Nigeria is trying to get back the billions of dollars stolen by its former dictator, General Sanni Abacha.....

Sanni Abacha
Sanni Abacha

In Britain they marvel at the audacity of the Great Train Robbers, in America the Great Brinks Robbery is stuff of legends, and as befits the self-styled 'Giant of Africa', Abacha's looting of $4.3 Billion from the Nigerian treasury is set to eclipse all these to become one of the world's greatest robberies.

Abacha came to power after overthrowing the quasi-democratic Interim Government of Ernest Shonekan in 1993. From the very start his regime was characterised by the brutal suppression of dissent and a disdain for international opinion. Nigerians, well used to the excesses of military dictatorship, were now experiencing oppression on par with what pertained in Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia or Cambodia under Pol Pot.

Relief came for the country when on June 8, 1998 Abacha died from heart failure, and as joy swept through the country, Abacha's successor General Abdulsalam Abubakar moved swiftly to hand over power to a democratically elected government. It is was generally thought the dawn of the democratic government heralded the close of one of Nigeria darkest chapters, but the revelations of the theft of public funds by Abacha and his cronies are ensuring that this chapter remains open for quite a while.

When Olusegun Obasanjo was sworn in as Nigeria's third democratic President, one of the cornerstones of his term of office was the fight against corruption, not an easy task in a nation that has struggled with this vice for most of its forty years as an independent nation.

Determined to prove that this was more than rhetoric Obasanjo set out to probe Abacha's regime, Special Investigators pored over official records and have began to unravel a chain of corruption that has taken them to the the major financial centres of the world, Zurich, New York, London and Luxembourg.

The ball starting rolling very shortly after Abacha's death when his wife Maryam was apprehended with thirty-eight suitcases stuffed full of various foreign currencies, trying to flee to Saudi Arabia. With Obasanjo in power the investigation gathered momentum, as soon, illegal accounts belonging to Abacha's friends and families were unearthed and frozen in Switzerland ($750 million), Liechtenstein ($100 million), Luxembourg ($630 million) in addition to the $1 Billion voluntarily handed over by Abacha's family and associates. Investigators still believe that there are vast amounts of money to be unearthed in accounts held in the UK, US, The Channel Islands, British Virgin Islands, France and Germany amongst others.

Back in Lagos associates and relations of Abacha have been detained and may soon face trial, these include his son Mohammed, his brother Abdulkadir, one-time National Security Advisor Ismail Gwarzo, Dharam Vir an Indian Businessman, and former Government Ministers Abubakar Bagudu, Anthony Ani and Bashir Dalhatu.

While the Nigerian government continues in its hunt for Abacha's missing Billions, the complicity (direct and otherwise) of western banks in this unfortunate episode is called into question. CitiBank was censured by the US Senate for failing to implement procedures, which would have weeded out money from illegal sources, like the Citibank account into which Abacha's sons deposited $107 million. Other western banks like Barclays, HSBC, Credit Agricole-Indosuez are alledged to hold some of the accounts being investigated.

Today, Nigeria a country of over 120 million, struggles with poverty in knowledge that one of its former rulers and a few cronies stole enough money to build thousands of hospitals and schools, enough money to wipe off a quarter of Nigeria's total national debt. You cannot help but wonder how much more has been stolen from Nigeria by its political leaders over the years.


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