$150M Abacha Loot: Time for France , Nigeria to Uphold Asset Recovery Laws

In line with the international legal framework ,France promised to returned stolen funds to Nigeria. This was made known in a press release signed by the
Executive Director
Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC)/Transparency International (TI) Nigeria,Auwal Musa Rasfanjani on 20th of December 2023.

Rafsanjani said that this return process falls within proceedings initiated in the United States where, in 2014, a court entered judgment forfeiting approximately US$500 million located in accounts around the world – including in France, Jersey, the U.K., etc. – 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.

According to Rafsanjani on November 3rd, 2023, through its Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and last week at the 10th Conference of the State Parties (CoSP) to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), France announced the upcoming return to Nigeria of US$150 million looted by former head of State Sani Abacha.

He also noted that as part of the same proceedings, Jersey, the US, and Nigeria secured an agreement in February 2020 for the return of US$311.7 million, which the previous Nigerian government had proposed to be used to finance several road infrastructure projects. As other returned funds confiscated in third countries have financed these same road infrastructures, several NGOs have warned of the risk of double financing and misappropriation of funds.

The announcement of the upcoming return of US$150M from France to Nigeria that took place during the launch of the Global Forum on Asset Recovery (GFAR) Action Series, organised by the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (StAR) to facilitate the communication and negotiation among origin and destination countries in connection with specific ongoing cases, raises several questions: When will the negotiations between France and Nigeria start? How will France and Nigeria choose the project or programmes financed by the returned funds? Will civil society organisations be included in the return process? If so, how?

The release which was also signed by Head Illicit Financial Flows Program
Transparency International (TI) France
Sara Brimbeuf state that it is important to note that while France has never returned any confiscated assets, it has recently established a legal framework for asset restitution (article 2 XI of the Law No 2021-1031 adopted on August 4, 2021 and circular No 6379/SG adopted on November 22, 2022) that enshrines principles of transparency and accountability and provides clear guidelines on the various stages of the return process.

While analysing the whole proceedings, Rafsanjani revealed that Nigeria, on the contrary, has a longstanding asset return experience with more than US$4 billion having been returned from different jurisdictions like Switzerland, the UK, the US, and Jersey, over the past three decades. While Nigeria has been commended for making efforts to repatriate stolen assets from abroad, the utilisation of these assets has been a challenge due to the lack of transparency and accountability in the management and utilisation of funds. These challenges gave rise to several calls by Nigerian and international state and non-state actors in Nigeria for a legal framework to ensure transparent and accountable management of recovered assets. These advocacy efforts led to the adoption of the Proceeds of Crime (Recovery and Management) Act 2022 which assigns roles and responsibilities to relevant institutions on recovery and management of proceeds of crime and gives a provision for civil society to monitor its implementation.

The executive director stated further that the upcoming restitution of US$150 million presents an excellent chance for France and Nigeria to implement the legal frameworks existing in their respective countries to ensure that the return process is transparent and accountable and includes civil society organisations. This is a chance for France to establish itself as a model for other destination countries wishing to return stolen assets and a chance for Nigeria to demonstrate that it is willing to be transparent about its management and utilisation of recovered assets.

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