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DOJ freezes $458 million embezzled by Nigeria kleptocrat

General Sani Abacha, President of Nigeria, courtesy of WkipediaThe Department of Justice has frozen more than $458 million in corruption proceeds hidden in bank accounts around the world by former Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha and his co-conspirators.

On Wednesday,  DOJ officials announced the seizure of proceeds, calling it the largest such action in U.S. history.

A civil forfeiture complaint unsealed in federal court in the District of Columbia said about $313 million in two bank accounts in the Bailiwick of Jersey and $145 million in two bank accounts in France were frozen.

Four investment portfolios and three bank accounts in the United Kingdom with an expected value of at least $100 million have also been restrained.

“General Abacha was one of the most notorious kleptocrats in memory, who embezzled billions from the people of Nigeria while millions lived in poverty, ” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman of the DOJ’s Criminal Division.

General Abacha became president of Nigeria in a military coup in 1993 and ran the country until his death in 1998.

U.S. authorities said General Abacha, his son and others embezzled billions of dollars from the government of Nigeria and other nations.

They laundered the money by buying bonds backed by the United States, using U.S. financial institutions to do so, and then moving the money overseas, the DOJ said.

The case was brought under the DOJ’s Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative, which coordinates with other federal law enforcement agencies the forfeiture the proceeds of foreign official corruption and, where appropriate, returning the money to the people harmed by the abuses of office.

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Julie DiMauro is the executive editor of FCPA Blog and can be reached here.

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