US kicks as Buhari’s govt plans to give $100m looted funds to Abacha’s ally, Bagudu

•UK freezes $155m assets traced to Kebbi gov

The United States has accused the Buhari regime of hindering its efforts at recovering Abacha loots traced to Kebbi State governor, Abubakar Bagudu, just as it is stoutly opposing plans by the Nigerian government to hand about $100 million stolen by deceased former dictator, Sani Abacha, to the governor.

Bloomberg news agency which reported this on Friday said the disagreement may hamper future cooperation between the two nations to recover state money moved offshore by Abacha, who Transparency International estimates may have looted as much as $5 billion during his 1993-98 rule.

A commitment by Nigeria to transfer the funds to Bagudu, the report said, “appears to undermine Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s pledge to quell rampant graft in Africa’s top oil producer.”

The US Department of Justice was reported to have alleged that Bagudu was involved in corruption with Abacha.

The DoJ also contended that the Nigerian government is hindering US efforts to recover allegedly laundered money it says it has traced to Bagudu.

Buhari’s administration is reportedly saying that a 17-year-old agreement entitles Bagudu to the funds and prevents Nigeria from assisting the US, according to recent filings from the District Court for the District of Columbia in Washington.

An associate fellow at London-based Chatham House and former Nigeria expert for US intelligence agencies, Matthew Page, said: “This case illustrates how complex and contentious repatriating stolen assets to Nigeria can be.

“Instead of welcoming US efforts, Nigeria’s lawyers appear to be supporting the interests of one of the country’s most powerful families.”

Neither Bagudu nor a spokesman for the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, responded to requests from Bloomberg for comment.

A spokesman for Buhari said the settlement and the litigation were matters for Malami.

A spokesman for the DoJ declined to comment.

Successive Nigerian governments have sought to recoup the money looted by Abacha, who died in office, and have so far repatriated more than $2 billion with the cooperation of other countries, according to U.S. court filings.

In the case involving Bagudu, the US in 2013 initiated a forfeiture action against a host of assets, including four investment portfolios held in London in trust for him and his family, according to the district court filings.

 

Laundered money

The DoJ said in a February 3 statement that Bagudu, 58, was part of a network controlled by Abacha that “embezzled, misappropriated and extorted billions from the government of Nigeria.” Bagudu is the chairman of an influential body of governors representing the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).

Despite the forfeiture action being initiated following a Nigerian state request in 2012, Buhari’s government now says it can’t assist the U.S. because it’s bound by a settlement Bagudu reached with the administration of then-President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2003, according to the court filings.

Under the terms of that accord, which was approved by a UK court, Bagudu returned $163 million of allegedly laundered money to the Nigerian authorities, which in exchange dropped all outstanding civil and criminal claims against him “stemming from his involvement in government corruption,” according to a December 23 memorandum opinion by District Judge John D. Bates in Washington DC.

That meant “Nigeria renounced any interest whatsoever” in Bagudu’s trust assets, including those the US is attempting to recover for the West African nation, the opinion stated.

Bagudu was able to return to Nigeria after concluding the settlement and was elected as a senator in 2009. Six years later, he was voted in as Kebbi’s governor in elections that brought Buhari and his party to power.

 

Investment portfolios

After Bagudu successfully sued Nigeria for violating the 2003 settlement, Buhari’s administration reached a new agreement with him in October 2018, according to the court filings.

That would result in the transfer of ownership of the investment portfolios, worth 141 million euros ($155 million) to the Nigerian state, which would then pay 98.5 million euros to Bagudu and his affiliates, according to Bates’ December 23 opinion.

The funds are currently restrained by the UK at the request of the US.

Nigeria’s government claims the updated 2018 agreement with the Kebbi governor, which requires court approval in the UK, will “curtail and mitigate its looming exposure” from the judgment in Bagudu’s favour.

The full texts of neither settlement were published in the court filings.

Buhari’s administration submitted the 2018 deal to the UK court in September to support its application to unfreeze the assets so they can be sent to Nigeria, according to the opinion.

The court has yet to make a decision.

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