The United States is withholding billions of dollars stolen by former dictator Sani Abacha from Nigeria, because the federal government intends to transfer about $100 million to Kebbi Governor Abubakar Bagudu.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) says Bagudu was involved in corruption with Abacha.
According to Bloomberg, the DoJ also contends that the Nigerian government is hindering U.S. efforts to recover allegedly laundered money it says it has traced to Bagudu.
The Buhari administration says a 17-year-old agreement entitles Bagudu to the funds and prevents Nigeria from assisting the U.S., according to recent filings from the District Court for the District of Columbia in Washington.
Transparency International estimates that Abacha may have looted as much as $5 billion during his stint as Nigeria's military ruler from 1993 to 1998.
In a February 3 statement, the DoJ alleged that Bagudu, 58, was part of a network controlled by Abacha that “embezzled, misappropriated and extorted billions from the government of Nigeria.”
In the case involving Bagudu, the U.S. 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.
Despite the forfeiture action initiated following a Nigerian state request in 2012, the Buhari administration now says it can’t assist the U.S. with Bagudu because it’s bound by a settlement Bagudu reached with the administration of then-President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2003.
The agreement Obasanjo reached with Bagudu
Under the terms of the Nigerian accord with Bagudu, which was approved by a U.K. court, the Kebbi governor returned $163 million of allegedly laundered money to the Nigerian authorities.
In exchange, Nigeria dropped all outstanding civil and criminal claims against Bagudu “stemming from his involvement in government corruption,” according to a December 23 memorandum opinion by District Judge John D. Bates in Washington D.C.
What Nigeria did is called plea bargain.
That meant “Nigeria renounced any interest whatsoever” in Bagudu’s trust assets, including those the U.S. is attempting to recover for the West African nation.
The deal Buhari administration entered with Bagudu
After Bagudu successfully sued Nigeria for violating the 2003 settlement, the Buhari administration reached a new agreement with him in October 2018, according to the court filings.
That agreement meant the transfer of ownership of the investment portfolios, worth 141 million euros ($155 million) to Nigeria, which would then pay 98.5 million euros to Bagudu and his affiliates.
The funds are currently restrained by the U.K. at the request of the U.S because the U.S doesn't want Bagudu to get that money.
“This case illustrates how complex and contentious repatriating stolen assets to Nigeria can be,” said Matthew Page, an associate fellow at London-based Chatham House and former Nigeria expert for U.S. intelligence agencies. “Instead of welcoming U.S. efforts, Nigeria’s lawyers appear to be supporting the interests of one of the country’s most powerful families.”
According to Bloomberg, the commitment by Nigeria to transfer the funds to Governor Bagudu appears to undermine Buhari’s pledge to quell rampant corruption in Africa’s top oil producer.
Bagudu returned to Nigeria after the agreement with the Obasanjo-led federal government and was elected senator in 2009. Six years later, he was voted Kebbi state governor in elections that brought the APC and Buhari to power.
According to the report, Bagudu and a spokesman for Attorney General Abubakar Malami did not respond to requests for comment.
A spokesman for Buhari said the settlement and the litigation were matters for Malami. A spokesman for the DoJ declined to comment.