The U.S. Department of Justice today announced that it has frozen over $458 million in funds linked to the corrupt Sani Abacha leadership of Nigeria. The department is referring to the seizure as the “largest kleptocracy forfeiture action” in the history of the Justice Department.
Abacha was the dictator of Nigeria from 1993 until his death in 1998. During his reign he, his family, and his fellow heads of state are estimated to have embezzled billions of dollars from the Central Bank of Nigeria. Much of the money was subsequently laundered through overseas accounts and bonds backed by the U.S.
“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 Mythili Raman, acting assistant attorney general. “This is the largest civil forfeiture action to recover the proceeds of foreign official corruption ever brought by the department. Through our Kleptocracy Initiative, we are seizing the assets of foreign leaders who steal funds that properly belong to the citizens they serve. Today’s action sends a clear message: we are determined and equipped to confiscate the ill-gotten riches of corrupt leaders who drain the resources of their countries.”
The Justice Department estimates that a majority of the frozen funds ($313 million) were part of two bank accounts held in the Bailiwick of Jersey. Another $145 million was held in two French bank accounts and a further $100 is estimated to have been held in UK bank accounts and investment portfolios. The investigation into the origin of the funds was conducted by the FBI.
“We will not let the U.S. banking system be a tool for dictators to hide their criminal proceeds,” said Valerie Parlave, assistant director in charge at the FBI’s Washington Field Office. “This action demonstrates the FBI’s ability to combat international corruption and money laundering by seizing the assets of those involved. I want to thank the special agents, financial analysts, and prosecutors whose hard work over the years resulted in today’s announcement.”