By Chris Nomjov
Civil society group, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has suggested that the U.S. Department of Justice limits the Federal Government’s control or management of $480 million forfeited Abacha funds, through some form of repatriation agreement. SERAP believes such a limitation is necessary to ensure that there is transparency and accountability in the process of forfeiting the funds.
The organization disclosed that, such has become necessary… “in the light of the unflattering indicators that the Nigerian government condones corruption in public service and its precedent on repatriated funds.”
The letter dated 25 March 2015 was sent to Mr Tom Malinowski, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor by SERAP’s Volunteer Counsel, Professor Alexander Sierck and Omolola Adekanye of Cameron LPP, Washington DC.
According to the organization, the Department of Justice should “lend itself to public suggestions and proposals prior to drafting a proposal for repatriation and disbursement of Abacha assets for Court approval. SERAP seeks the State Department’s support for this purpose.”
The letter reads in part: “SERAP is in ongoing communications with the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section of the Department of Justice by Order of Court entered on February 6, 2014 by District Judge John D. Bates of the District of Colombia.
“Hence, SERAP has respectfully requested that the U.S. Department of Justice publish an invitation in the Federal Register for public suggestions and comments to be made regarding inter-alia i) Proposed permitted and prohibited use of the Abacha funds;
ii) Proposed framework for monitoring and evaluation of development programs; and
iii) Integration of transparency and accountability protocols in the process of disbursement.”
“Corruption remains the primary factor undermining democracy, human rights and economic development in Nigeria. Fostering robust anti-corruption measures should therefore be a prime objective of U.S. foreign policy regarding Nigeria and other comparable nations. Accordingly, SERAP respectfully invites the State Department to support SERAP’s ongoing discussions with the U.S. Department of Justice to achieve our shared objective.”
“SERAP’s concern about the repatriation and ultimate disbursement of these funds stems from the fact that an arrangement that would potentially allow the Nigerian government access, control or management of the funds when repatriated undermines the objective of the Kleptocracy Initiative. This is because the Nigerian government has shown no disposition towards actively combating corruption by public officials and has not promoted transparency and accountability in public spending.”
“SERAP specifically notes that as testament to the above claims, the Nigerian government dropped the nine counts of corruption charges against the co-conspirators in the Abacha case, as well as in several other high profile cases of large-scale embezzlement. Indeed, in 2014, the highest honor of the Nation was conferred on the late Dictator Sani Abacha by the Nigerian government in spite of his reputation, and a co-conspirator in the Abacha matter currently holds office as a member of the Senate in Nigeria.”
“SERAP further notes that the World Bank’s expenditure report on the spending of the $500 million looted assets stolen by Sani Abacha, which was repatriated in 2005, indicates that the weakness in the public financial system in Nigeria and lack of a proper audit made it difficult to track the spending of those repatriated funds.”
“SERAP’s objective for the repatriation of these assets aligns with the policy objectives of the U.S. under the Kleptocracy Initiative with regards to repatriation of forfeited assets. However, SERAP, like the UN Convention on Corruption Coalition, is concerned about the challenges of ensuring that repatriation process and allocation of the funds will indeed be transparent, promote accountability and ultimately not undermine human rights and other interests of the true beneficiaries, the Nigerian people.”
In a separate letter also dated 25 March 2015 addressed to the U.S. Attorney General, the Honorable Eric Holder, Jr. “SERAP notes that the Nigerian Government has made its intentions to seek repatriation of these funds known. However under the technical provisions of the relevant U.S. Laws and going by precedents, also alluded to in your to SERAP, there is no basis for the Nigerian Government to legitimately initiate the process of repatriation unless by way of an international agreement such as in the Kazakhstan case which led to the establishment of the BOTA Foundation.”
“It is our understanding that at this juncture, the Department faces the challenging responsibility of establishing a method of disbursement of the funds that indeed meets the objectives of the Kleptocracy Initiative for approval by Order of Court.”
The group further cautions that not limiting and evaluating government handling of the loot, can be inimical to the nation’s development, in the event of mismanagement of such funds
“SERAP notes that there is a lot at stake for the Nigerian Nation and Her people in the event that the forfeited fund are repatriated without pragmatic controls established by a formal arrangement. Nigeria’s development and security hinges on the ultimate fight against corruption, and as the Secretary of States John Kerry has repeatedly emphasized, the U. S. shares this concern. We therefore hold that meticulous consideration of thorough proposals in form of comments and suggestions made by the public is apposite in the circumstance.” the statement read.