Joint Statement: Spotlight on Corruption and African Network for Environmental and Economic Justice (ANEEJ)

Author: Spotlight On Corruption

Today’s announcement that the UK’s National Crime Agency has recovered $23.5 million of funds stolen from Nigeria by family and associates of former head of state, Sani Abacha, is very welcome. These looted funds were laundered through an intricate web of Western bank accounts and substantial sums ended up in the UK.

The $23.5 million is just a small portion of a larger pot of $182 million frozen in UK bank accounts as a result of action by the US Department of Justice. Spotlight on Corruption and ANEEJ have worked together to seek court documents in the UK relating to these cases. There are ongoing controversies around the remaining $160 million, not least because of reports that, due to legal agreements made before the UK High Court, the money will be returned to one of the original people involved in hiding the proceeds of Abacha related corruption overseas.

David Ugolor, Executive Director of ANEEJ said:

“This is a huge opportunity for the UK and US Government to carry out a reality check on how other asset returns to Nigeria have complied with the Global Forum on Asset Recovery Principles and make sure mistakes are not repeated. In playing a key role in international co-operation on efforts to recover the Abacha loot, the UK must ensure these processes live up to the commitments it recently made in its new Framework for Transparent and Accountable Asset Return.

Information on the last return of Abacha related funds – $308million – from Jersey, is not easily accessible to the general public – this runs contrary to the agreement signed between the Nigeria, US and Jersey Government. 

We urge the UK and US Governments to send a strong message by working with the Nigerian government to ensure that any return both of these funds and future funds meets with internationally agreed principles for asset return. This means that civil society should be consulted in decision making about how the funds will be returned and what they will be spent on.

Every asset return is a major opportunity to send a strong message that there will be no impunity for corruption and that those most harmed by corruption – the poorest in Nigeria – properly benefit in transparency and accountable ways from funds stolen from them.”

Joseph Sinclair, legal associate at Spotlight on Corruption said:

”The hunt for Abacha’s loot has exposed real challenges in recovering stolen assets, with UK law enforcement unfortunately lagging its counterparts in the US and Europe in tracking down these funds. 

UK law enforcement has been slow to take action, and efforts to return the funds have been bogged down in UK court proceedings while other countries have got on with returning stolen assets, including nearly $1 billion ($828 million) from Switzerland since 2006, and $311 million from the US and Jersey in 2020.

The lessons from why this process has been so slow and painful in the UK need to be learned.”