A Lagos-based group, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), in an open letter to United States (U.S.) President Donald Trump, has been urged to return over $500 million looted funds to Nigeria.The monies are proceeds of corruption traced to former Nigerian dictator, Gen. Sani Abacha.
With a copy sent to The Guardian yesterday, it said that the proceeds were separate from the $480 million of Abacha-origin funds that have been forfeited to that under an August 2014 U.S. federal district court order.
SERAP in the letter signed by its U.S. Volunteer Counsel,Prof. Alexander W. Sierck and Executive Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, told Trump that “the U.S. Department of Justice must promptly initiate civil asset forfeiture proceedings against these proceeds so as to fulfill several non-controversial commitments by the U.S. government to assist Nigeria in recovering assets looted by former Nigerian government officials.”
The letter, a copy of which was also sent to the U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria, Stuart Symington, and Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, reads in part: “SERAP urges your new administration to initiate discussions with the Nigerian government to fulfill these objectives within an agreed frame-work 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 U.S. 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 U.S. or otherwise subject to U.S. jurisdiction. This proposed commitment is similar to one between the U.S. 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.”
Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay, had last month raised the alarm that Nigeria risked losing another $550 million recovered from the Abacha family to the government of U.S.
Sagay said that the amount represented a separate tranche from the earlier $480 million forfeited to the country following a court judgment.According to him: “Nigeria presently stands to lose another $550 million recovered from the Abacha family to the U.S., contrary to the earlier promise by the U.S. to return same to Nigeria.”