Swiss booty call: $380mn in ‘looted’ funds return to Nigeria

© Ruben Sprich
Switzerland transferred $380 million to the Nigerian government this week as part of its restitution of funds allegedly looted by the late general and de facto president Sani Abacha.

Media reports say anywhere from $50 billion to $150 billion were stolen and stashed in foreign accounts during his rule between 1993 and 1998.

Some of his wealth was allegedly gained from bribes by Dick Cheney while he was CEO of Halliburton.

Five years ago, Nigeria dropped charges against Cheney in exchange for a $250 million settlement from Halliburton after interventions from former US President George HW Bush and Former Secretary of State James Baker.

Baker was the main operator behind the 2000 Florida recount process that led to US Supreme Court’s selection of George W Bush and Cheney.

Over the past ten years, Nigeria has received over $1 billion from the Swiss and American governments, the result of an agreement made between Nigeria and the Abacha family.

The Abacha reign was accused of civil rights crackdowns, torture, and executions. Nigeria asked Switzerland to recover the funds following his death and the country was forced to relax its secrecy regulations.

The $380 million was seized in Luxembourg in 2006 on orders from Geneva authorities as part of an investigation. The funds were controlled by a number of companies run by the Abacha family.

Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari, who took office in May 2015, asked the US and UK for help in locating the stolen funds.

Switzerland had already returned $700 million of Abacha’s stolen funds from Swiss bank accounts between 2004 and 2005.

Swiss Secrecy

Swiss bank accounts are infamous for their privacy, security, and hiding wealth. Swiss law made it a criminal offense to reveal a client’s identity in 1934, creating a huge tax haven.

A leak from the global bank HSBC revealed Swiss accounts involved in blood diamond trading, cocaine smuggling in the Dominican Republic, bribery in Malta’s state oil company, and other crimes such as:

Ukrainian Banker

Sergey Maksimov, accused of arranging loans to his own companies, held almost $1.5 million in an HSBC account.  

Israelis

Israelis have the sixth greatest amount of money held in HSBC with $10 billion including Benny and Daniel Steinmetz who made a fortune in diamonds. Israeli bank accounts drew special attention from the US and an investigation is ongoing.

Osama bin Laden

Members of Osama bin Laden’s family and the ‘Golden Chain’ of wealthy Arabs suspected of backing al-Qaeda were also on the list with one account containing $70 million.

Mugabe

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe took money from the country’s national exchequer and opened a Swiss bank account in his wife Sally’s name. The account was said to contain millions. When Sally died, Mugabe tried to claim the money, but learned under Ghanaian law that a wife’s property reverts to her family on her death.

READ MORE: Mugabe defies ’death prophets’ by living into 2016

Some 41 Swiss banks signed amnesty agreements with the US Justice Department requiring them to disclose ways they helped customers hide assets in 2013. The Swiss reported assets moving to banks in Hong Kong, Israel, Lebanon, Liechtenstein, and others.

There also are allegations that the money returned to Nigeria may be caught up in a vicious cycle of corruption.

A former finance minister diverted $300 million of recovered funds to the Office of National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki in 2015, months before the presidential election, which was said to be for military equipment to fight Boko Haram.

However, the money is said to be part of a $1.2 million fund Dasuki gave to politicians before the elections. Dasuki was arrested in November and an investigation has indicted a number of officials.