Late General Sani Abacha
By Collins Edomaruse
No fresh releases from the blocked funds in Swiss bank accounts of the late Head of State, General Sani Abacha, have been made to the Federal Government of Nigeria since 2009, the Swiss authorities have said.
But this contradicts the country’s earlier claim that it paid $700 million, which it said was the full payment of the money, to Nigeria in 2006.
The Swiss Ambassador to Nigeria, Dr. Hans-Rudolf Hodel, in a response to THISDAY inquiry on the matter at the weekend, said the $700 million in Abacha’s Swiss bank accounts earlier blocked by his home government that he had alluded to last week was restituted to the Nigerian government between 2005 and 2009.
He said: “In December 1999, Nigeria presented to Switzerland a formal request for mutual legal assistance involving the former Head of State, Sani Abacha.
“On the basis of Swiss legislation, the Swiss authorities were able to gather, thanks to a close partnership with the Nigerian authorities, all relevant information and to proceed, between 2005 and 2009, with the restitution of the funds to the Nigerian Government.”
The four-year time frame for the return of the funds cited by Hodel controverts an earlier information on the same matter by one of his predecessors, Dr. Pierre Helg.
Helg, then Swiss Ambassador to Nigeria, on February 7, 2006, had told journalists in his house after a dinner, that the Swiss Government had fully repatriated to Nigerian government $700 million stashed away in Swiss banks by Abacha.
“I am pleased to note that the bilateral relations are again at their best. Some will remember that last year we had ups and downs with the restitution of the Abacha funds. But today, the whole of this money is back in Nigeria and, also thanks to the constructive and very friendly visit of President Olusegun Obasanjo to Switzerland last April, everything is over and I see on both sides a fruitful spirit of cooperation,” Helg said.
However, an impression of a fresh repatriation of the seized money was created by Hodel when he told journalists last week in a press conference in Abuja that his country had returned $700 million Abacha loot to the Federal Government.
Asked to comment on why the fund claimed to have been returned to Nigeria in 2006 by his predecessor still remained a subject of repatriation up to 2009, Hodel said: “I am glad to hear that you were in close contact with my predecessors in the past on the issues in question, particularly with Ambassador Helg. You will understand that I cannot comment on discussions you mentioned …, since I was not present at that time.”
Speaking on the behind-the-scene moves that led to the return of the funds and the mode of deployment by Nigeria, the envoy said: “Switzerland and Nigeria agreed to request the World Bank to participate in the review of the use of the funds, in the framework of a budget control process of various welfare projects.
“Additionally, Switzerland funded a project of a NGO network which monitored the use of the recovered funds in the various development projects (on rural electrification, economic development, roads, primary health care and vaccination programs, basic and secondary education as well as potable water and rural irrigation) executed by several Nigerian agencies.
“Through this mechanism, the entire 700 million USD blocked in Swiss bank accounts have been returned to Nigeria”, he added.
Asked to give details of the actual amount repatriated by his country to Nigeria between 2006 when the $700 million was claimed to have been released to the Federal Government and 2009 that he said payments were still being made, the Ambassador said he could not comment on it.
He, however, disclosed that as part of the collaboration between Nigeria and his country,” proceedings for support of a criminal organisation are still pending in Geneva against Abba Abacha, the son of the former Nigerian President. As this is an ongoing case, we can give no further information.”