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Wednesday 10 May 2000
NET CLOSES ON STOLEN $BILLIONS
The freezing this week by Luxembourg authorities of more than 600 million dollars in accounts linked to General Sani Abacha puts on ice more than 1.25 billion dollars stolen by Nigeria's late dictator, making it one of the world's largest corruption case. Luxembourg deputy state prosecutor Georges Heisbourg said yesterday that Luxembourg officials had frozen eight accounts worth 671 million eurosmillion dollars) in the Luxembourg subsidiary of a German bank. The accounts, details of which were withheld, were in the name of different off-shore oil companies linked to two of the sons of the late general who ruled Nigeria from November 1993 until his sudden death in June 1998, Heisbourg said. "The funds confiscated correspond to money diverted into the pocket of the Abacha family," he said. "Searches have been carried out and the case is soon to be sent to the Nigerian government," he added. In October, Swiss authorities said they had frozen 654 million dollars in about 140 accounts in 11 banks in Geneva and Zurich. The funds were deposited in two of Switzerland's largest commercial banks, Credit Suisse and UBS, and several private banks.
The combined actions amount to the largest known freezing of monies linked to a former dictator -- dwarfing the 550 million dollars that former Philippines president Ferdinand Marcos left in Swiss accounts. And although Abacha's alleged looting of the national treasury does not compare with others such as former Zaire's Sese Seko Mobutu, the chase for his money appears now to be the world's largest corruption case. Abacha, a former defence minister and chief of defence staff, took power in Nigeria in November 1993 and, according to Nigerian government officials, quickly set about systematically raiding the country's central bank reserves, built up on oil sales. With his family and a close network of associates and advisers, he set up dozens of off-shore front companies, spread around the world, and illegally transferred the money abroad.
Estimates as to how much much money in total was transferred abroad illegally or stolen and kept in Nigeria run to eight billion dollars but little so far is proven. But since Abacha died aged 54 on June 8, 1998, reportedly cavorting with prostitutes in a guest house in the grounds of the presidential villa, his family's fortunes have dwindled and the corruption scandal has unravelled. In September 1998, Abacha's successor General Abdulsalami Abubakar persuaded Abacha's widow Maryam and eldest surviving son Mohammed to return cash worth around 750 million dollars said to have been stolen from public funds. No prosecution followed but in October, the son was arrested on different charges of organising the 1996 murder of the wife of prominent politician Chief Moshood Abiola. President Olusegun Obasanjo said in November last year that his government had succeeded in recovering 124 million dollars in stolen funds on top of the funds already frozen. The amounts recovered or frozen to date are believed to be minor compared with money moved abroad, under Abacha and his predecessor General Ibrahim Babangida. Those funds are still under investigation in an inquiry headed by Nigerian National Security Adviser Aliyu Mohammed Gusau, centred on funds in London and other capitals.