Ambassador of Switzerland to Nigeria, Dr. Hans-Rudolf Hodel
The Ambassador of Switzerland to Nigeria, Dr. Hans-Rudolf Hodel, has disclosed that a total of $700 million deposited in Swiss banks by the late former military head of state, General Sani Abacha, has so far been returned to the Nigerian government even as proceedings were still pending in Geneva against Abacha's son, Abba, for supporting a criminal organisation.
He added that in the last 15 years, Switzerland has so far returned about $1.7 billion of illicit origin to their countries of origin including Angola, Peru, Nigeria and the Philippines.
Hodel made this disclosure in Abuja, yesterday when he briefed journalists on an upcoming seminar by the Switzerland Embassy and the Inter-Governmental Action Group against Money Laundering in West Africa (GIABA) on Anti-Money Laundering and Combating the Financing of Terrorism, during which he said he was unaware of the existence of $1 billion alluded to by former President Olusegun Obasanjo as still being held in the Swiss banks.
The envoy noted that the Abacha case and others had compelled Switzerland to take more stringent steps to combat illicit dealings in its financial sector.
Some of the measures included: no anonymous accounts; banking secrecy is lifted when there are suspicions of criminal activities; strengthening anti-money laundering regulations; and being an active member of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) against Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing.
“Swiss banking secrecy does not offer any protection against criminal prosecution, neither within Switzerland nor regarding international legal assistance.
“Additional measures prevent assets from being withdrawn before foreign authorities and law enforcement agencies submit a formal request for legal assistance or information for investigative purposes," Hodel said.
Such assistance, he added, may include providing banking information and the freezing of bank accounts if such accounts have been identified in the criminal proceedings outlined in the legal requests.
It is important, he said, that returned funds have not been embezzled by corrupt officials of the benefiting government.
He also spoke on the bilateral relations between Nigeria and Switzerland, noting that $225 million was invested by Swiss businesses in the Nigerian economy in 2010 up from $201 million in 2009.
Also, the Deputy Head of Mission of the Embassy, Ms. Tamara Mona, said Switzerland was working with the platform provided by the international community to mediate in the political crises in Mali.
She said that the country could only undertake a more active role if a formal request is made by the Malian authorities or by regional organisations involved in mediation efforts in the country.