By Ugo Aliogo
A civil society group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), has sent an open letter to the President of the United State, Mr. Donald Trump, urging him to release to Nigeria some $500 million worth of US-based proceeds of corruption traced to the late military Head of State, General Sani Abacha.
The organisation said the proceeds are separate from the $480 million of Abacha-origin funds that were forfeited to the US under an August 2014 US federal district court order.
It said its request is fully consistent with the UN Convention Against Corruption, which both the US and Nigeria have ratified.”
SERAP in the letter dated February 3, 2017, and signed by the organisation’s US Volunteer Counsel Professor Alexander W. Sierck and Executive Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, told Trump: “The US Department of Justice must promptly initiate civil asset forfeiture proceedings against these proceeds so as to fulfill several non-controversial commitments by the US to assist Nigeria in recovering assets looted by former Nigerian government officials.
The letter, a copy of which was sent to the US Ambassador to Nigeria, Stuart Symington, and Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, read in part: “SERAP urges your new administration to initiate discussions with the Nigerian government to fulfill these objectives within an agreed framework and timeline. simultaneously, the Administration should instruct the Justice Department to initiate civil asset forfeiture proceedings in regard to the above-referenced $500 million in assets described above.
“Any bilateral discussions between the US and Nigeria concerning these assets should include clear acknowledgement of the significant role that civil society plays in asset recovery matters.
“To that end, the respective governments ought to commit to promptly sharing information with relevant civil society organisations on stolen assets of Nigerian origin located in the US or otherwise subject to US jurisdiction. This proposed commitment is similar to one between the US and Kenya as well as consistent with Articles 46(4) and 56 of the UN Convention Against Corruption.
“SERAP notes that Article 51 of the UN Convention against Corruption provides for the return of “corrupt” assets to countries of origin as a fundamental principle. Article 43 provides likewise. Similarly, under Articles 47(3)(a) and (b) states parties have an obligation to return forfeited or confiscated assets in cases of public corruption, as here, or when the requesting party reasonably establishes either prior ownership or damages to the states.
“In SERAP’s judgment, some or all of these requirements have been met with respect to the $500 million in proceeds described above. A resolution adopted by the Conference of States Parties to the UN Convention Against Corruption in Panama in November 2013 reaffirms this obligation, by requiring state to make “every effort” to return such proceeds. to the victim state.
“Nigeria’s Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption has recently informed SERAP that the US Government has identified another $500 million or so proceeds of Nigerian corruption subject to US jurisdiction.”
Last month, the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Professor Itse Sagay, had raised the alarm that Nigeria risked losing another $550million recovered from the Abacha family to the government of US.
Sagay said the amount represented a separate tranche from the earlier $480 million forfeited to the US following a court judgment.
According to him, “Nigeria presently stands to lose another $550 million recovered from the Abacha family to the US, contrary to the earlier promise by the US to return same to Nigeria.”