The Embassy of the United States of America in Nigeria has told the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project that it will relay its letter to President Donald Trump and Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, requesting the Administration to attach and release to Nigeria some $500 million worth of US-based proceeds of corruption traced to former Nigerian dictator, General Sani Abacha.
The US embassy said the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are in regular communication with the Nigerian Attorney General and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs regarding further cooperation needed to conclude pending asset forfeiture cases and to develop a mechanism for the timely and transparent repatriation of those assets.
The embassy’s letter, signed by David J. Young, Deputy Chief of Mission, followed SERAP’s letter dated February 3, 2017 and signed by the organization’s US Volunteer Counsel, Prof. Alexander W. Sierck, and Executive Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni.
SERAP had in the letter told Trump: “The US Department of Justice must promptly initiate civil asset forfeiture proceedings against the $500 million proceeds of corruption so as to fulfill several non-controversial commitments by the US to assist Nigeria in recovering assets looted by former Nigerian government officials.”
In response, the US embassy said last week: “Thank you for your letter regarding the recovery of Nigerian assets. As part of the 2010 Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative, the US Department of Justice has sought to forfeit the proceeds of corruption by foreign officials [including from Nigeria], and where appropriate, to use recovered assets to benefit the people who were harmed. This policy is consistent with US treaty obligations, including the UN Convention against Corruption.”
The embassy’s letter reads in part: “The United States Government supports the Government of Nigeria’s efforts to work with civil society to identify how harm can be remedied through the return of stolen assets. We encourage you to disclose these issues with the Nigerian Attorney General and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who are working closely with the US on the repatriation process.
“We were encouraged by civil society’s role in the development of Nigeria’s Open Government Partnership Action Plan and the commitment to strengthening laws to foster transparency and accountability in the management of recovered and returned assets.”
It would be recalled that SERAP had in its letter said: “The $500 million proceeds are separate from the $480 million of Abacha-origin funds that have been forfeited to the US under an August 2014 US federal district court order. SERAP’s request is fully consistent with the UN Convention Against Corruption, which both the US and Nigeria have ratified.”
SERAP’s letter reads in part: “We urge your new Administration to initiate discussions with the Nigerian government to fulfill these objectives within an agreed framework 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 US 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 organizations on stolen assets of Nigerian origin located in the US or otherwise subject to US jurisdiction. This proposed commitment is similar to one between the US 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.
“In SERAP’s judgment, some or all of these requirements have been met with respect to the $500 million in proceeds described above. A resolution adopted by the Conference of States Parties to the UN Convention Against Corruption in Panama in November 2013 reaffirms this obligation, by requiring state to make “every effort” to return such proceeds. to the victim state.
“Nigeria’s Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption has recently informed SERAP that the US Government has identified another $500 million or so proceeds of Nigerian corruption subject to US jurisdiction.”