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U.S. seizes $480 million plundered by late Nigeria kleptocrat

General Sani Abacha, 10th Head of State of Nigeria, courtesy of WikipediaThe DOJ took more than $480 million in corruption proceeds hidden in bank accounts around the world by former Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha and his co-conspirators.

The forfeited assets represent the proceeds of corruption during and after the military regime of General Abacha, who served as president of Nigeria after leading a military coup in November 1993, the DOJ said Thursday.

Abacha was Nigeria’s ruler until he died in 1998. 

The complaint alleges that Abacha, his son Mohammed Sani Abacha, their associate Abubakar Atiku Bagudu and others “embezzled, misappropriated and extorted billions of dollars from the government of Nigeria and others, then laundered the proceeds through U.S. financial institutions and bonds backed by the United States.”   

The DOJ filed a civil forfeiture complaint last year, seeking to seize more than $625 million in assets. It’s the biggest kleptocracy forfeiture action brought by the DOJ.

In March, the DOJ froze more than $458 million in bank accounts in the Bailiwick of Jersey and in France. The forfeiture judgment includes millions more in accounts in the UK and Ireland.

Four investment portfolios in the UK worth $148 million have also been restrained.

As alleged in the forfeiture complaint, Abacha and others embezzled billions of dollars in public funds from the Central Bank of Nigeria on the false pretense that the funds were needed for national security.

The money was moved overseas through U.S. financial institutions. 

The DOJ hasn’t said whether it will return any of the seized assets to Nigeria.

The DOJ started the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative in 2011. The program is intended to seize ill-gotten gains stolen from the developing world.

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

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