Federal Office of Justice

Abacha funds to be handed over to Nigeria

Majority of assets obviously of criminal origin

Press Release, FOJ, 18.08.2004

Bern, 18.8.2004. The greater part of the USD 500 million of Abacha funds frozen in Switzerland are clearly of criminal origin and will therefore be handed over to Nigeria. Appeals against the Federal Office of Justice (FOJ) ruling may be lodged with the Swiss Federal Supreme Court within 30 days. Nigeria has undertaken to use the assets to finance development projects.

The Nigerian authorities accuse the criminal organisation founded by former head of state Sani Abacha of systematically having plundered the country – and the Nigerian central bank in particular – for many years. From 1999 onwards they have applied to Switzerland and a number of other countries for judicial assistance. In 2002 and 2003, Switzerland handed over to Nigeria extensive legal assistance files, specifically including bank documentation. Furthermore, it has been possible to date to return more than USD 200 million from Switzerland to Nigeria, following settlements between the parties concerned and the Nigerian authorities, as well as seizure orders issued by the public prosecutor's office of Canton Geneva.

Assets traced

Under the terms of the Swiss International Mutual Legal Assistance Act, assets may be returned on the basis of a legal enforceable seizure order from the applicant state. In exceptional cases – such as where the frozen assets are obviously of criminal origin – assets can be returned without such an order. On the basis of information and documentation from Nigeria and from the criminal proceedings in Geneva, the FOJ was able to follow the paper trail left by the USD 500 million of Abacha funds still frozen in Switzerland. It states in its ruling, which runs to more than 50 pages, that the greater part of these assets are obviously of criminal origin. The FOJ has therefore ordered the transfer of these assets to an account at the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) in favour of Nigeria.

The criminal origin of a small proportion of the assets, worth around USD 7 million, is regarded as being only probable. The FOJ has thus ordered that they be transferred to an escrow account in Nigeria, to which the Nigerian authorities will have no access until a corresponding seizure order has been issued.

Destined for development projects

Both President Olusengu Obasanjo and Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala assured the Swiss authorities last May that, once transferred to Nigeria, the Abacha funds are to be used for development projects in the healthcare and education sectors, as well as for infrastructure projects (roads, electricity and water supplies) to help the rural and poor people. The Swiss mission in Abuja will monitor the use of the Abacha funds in accordance with this assurance.

Ruling not yet final and absolute

For the time being, the Abacha funds will remain in Switzerland, as the FOJ ruling is not yet final and absolute: the persons involved may lodge an appeal against it with the Swiss Federal Supreme Court within 30 days. In the event of such an appeal, the Supreme Court – as court of second and final instance – will decide whether or not the funds are to be handed over to Nigeria.

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