A civil society group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), has sent an open letter to U.S. President Donald J. Trump urging his “Administration to attach and release to Nigeria some $500 million worth of U.S.-based proceeds of corruption traced to former Nigerian dictator General Sani Abacha.”
The organization said “these proceeds are separate from the $480 million of Abacha-origin funds that have been forfeited to the U.S. 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 in the letter dated February 3, 2017 and signed by the organization’s U.S. Volunteer Counsel Professor Alexander W. “Sandy” Sierck and executive director Adetokunbo Mumuni, told Mr. Trump that “the U.S. Department of Justice must promptly initiate civil asset forfeiture proceedings against these proceeds so as to fulfill several non-controversial commitments by the US to assist Nigeria in recovering assets looted by former Nigerian government officials.”
The letter, a copy of which was sent to the U.S. ambassador to Nigeria Stuart Symington, and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, reads in part:
SERAP urges 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. Government has identified another $500 million or so proceeds of Nigerian corruption subject to U.S. jurisdiction.
Last month the Chairman of Nigeria’s Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Professor Itse Sagay, raised the alarm that Nigeria risked losing another $550 million recovered from the Abacha family to the government of United States.
Sagay said that the amount represented a separate tranche from the earlier $480 million forfeited to the United States following a court judgment. According to him, “Nigeria presently stands to lose another $550 million recovered from the Abacha family to the U.S., contrary to the earlier promise by the U.S. to return same to Nigeria.”
Sandy Sierck is an adjunct professor at Georgetown’s law school, co-teaching a course on international white collar crime. He does international trade litigation and compliance work at Cameron LLP, where he is senior counsel.
Adetokunbo Mumuni is currently the Executive Director of the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), a non-governmental, non-profit organization dedicated to promoting transparency and accountability in government through the framework of human rights. Before this, Mumuni worked briefly as Attorney with the Nassarawa Local Government Secretariat in Plateau State, and was senior counsel in the law firm of Bisi-Olateru-Olagbegi & Co.