An attempt by the Federal Government to repatriate £300m stolen funds from the State of Jersey (an autonomous British territory) has suffered a setback, says the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama.
Onyeama said this in Abuja on Tuesday during a press conference which was held to commemorate President Muhammadu Buhari’s one year in office.
The Bailiff of Jersey, Mr Micheal Birt, had said in 2014 that Jersey had repatriated, in two tranches £140m of the loot belonging to the late Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha, which was laundered on his behalf by Mr Raj Bhojwani, an Indian businessman.
Bhojwani is currently serving an eight-year prison sentence in the United Kingdom.
Birt had also promised that another £315m would be repatriated to Nigeria.
Onyeama said the attempt to repatriate the funds had, however, hit a brick wall.
He said one of the challenges with repatriating stolen funds was that even after Nigeria and the country hosting the stolen money had reached an agreement, the person who deposited the money might take a legal action to frustrate the repatriation of the funds.
The minister added, “Often times, what happens is that the people who claim to have ownership will come up with a challenge. For instance, the one in Jersey is about £300m. Everything had been done to repatriate the money; it was no longer contested and then at the last minute, it was contested by the people who were supposed to forfeit the funds.
“So of course, the authorities in Jersey had to oblige. As much as they would have liked to just go ahead to repatriate it, they had to go through some legal procedures because that party will have their lawyers and then we will have to start going through legal issues all over again. So, that is the challenge.”
When asked to reveal how much the Buhari administration had recovered in the last one year, Onyeama said he could not immediately reveal the facts.
However, the minister said since Buhari took over in May 2015, more countries had shown willingness to return looted funds due to the President’s anti-corruption crusade.
He, however, explained that loot repatriation was not an easy process.
The minister said sometimes, the country holding the stolen funds might make certain demands which required intense negotiation.
This, he said, was how former President Olusegun Obasanjo recovered about $1bn from Switzerland.
He added, “If you remember the Abacha one (loot) in Switzerland at the time, the Obasanjo government had to finally agree to give them 10 per cent of the amount. This was about $100m and then they returned $900m to Nigeria.
“If they (Swiss government) had not agreed and said they wanted to keep the whole money, it would have been very difficult for us and that is where the anti-corruption summit and the initiative of President Buhari are really focused on these western countries to remove some of those barriers and lengthy procedures that are in place and make it possible for these people to delay and delay.’’
Reacting to a question on the Panama Papers Scandal, which has revealed the identities of some influential Nigerians, who had saved money in some notorious tax havens, the minister said many countries across the world were not doing anything about it.
He explained that even in the UK, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, whose father was accused of operating offshore accounts, had refused to address the allegation.
The minister said, “I don’t know of any country that has done anything about it. In the UK, Cameron’s father was listed in the papers and a number of other countries but I haven’t read that any country has taken any measures whatsoever.
“The Icelandic Prime Minister resigned. There were demonstrations because they heard a rumour and he resigned but he didn’t have to. There was no legal obligation because if he had done something wrong, resigning wouldn’t have saved him from prosecution. You would hear he had been charged but that was not the case.