Nigeria: Abacha’s looted fund returns

By IndepthAfrica
In Nigeria
Dec 5th, 2012
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Switzerland is set to expose public officers who stashed away looted funds in the country’s banks, just as it announced yesterday that the country new laws did not allow anonymous bank accounts in Swiss banks. The Swiss Government also announced that $700 million, out of the reported $1 billion loot stashed in the country’s banks belonging to the late head of state, General Sani Abacha had been returned to the Federal Government. Swiss Ambassador to Nigeria, Dr. Hans-Rudolf Hodel, said this at a press briefing in Abuja yesterday.

He spoke against the backdrop of a proposed seminar on Anti-Money Laundering and Combating the Financing of Terrorism, which would hold in Abuja between December 11 and 13. The seminar was a collaborative effort between the Swiss Government and the Federal Government. His words: Switzerland is working closely with other countries to combat organised crime and terrorism. It employs internationally binding sanctions, in particular sanctions imposed by the United Nations.

“Let me quickly touch upon a few key words: Swiss banking secrecy protects the privacy of bank clients, but it is not unlimited. If there are suspicions of criminal activities such as terrorism, organised crime, money laundering or tax fraud, it is lifted-and the authorities are given access to banking information. Banking secrecy is not a Swiss peculiarity; it exists in many other countries. “No anonymous accounts exist in Switzerland.

The bank is obliged to know the identity of the account holder and of the actual financial beneficiary. Highly developed financial centres run the risk of being used to launder money and to finance terrorism. “The Swiss Act on the Restitution of Illicit Asset is an innovative tool that may speed up Asset Recovery proceedings in certain cases.

The law is the result of difficulties encountered by the Swiss authorities in returning asset with insufficient structures. “To resolve cases of illicit assets of politically exposed persons (PEPs) deposited in Switzerland, the law comprises the three instruments of freezing, confiscation and restitution in situations where the state of origin of the assets in question is unable to conduct a criminal procedure that meets the requirements of Swiss law on international mutual legal assistance. “The law foresees a reversal of the burden of proof.

In the confiscation proceedings, the account holders have to prove the origin of the funds. Failing to do so, illegality of the assets is assumed. “Money laundering was recognised as an offence in the Swiss Criminal Code since 1990. On February 1, 2009, various improvements in Switzerland’s anti-money laundering arsenal entered into force, enabling Switzerland to stay abreast of the more sophisticated international standards.

“Switzerland has a fundamental interest in ensuring that assets of criminal origin are not invested in the Swiss financial centre. Swiss laws and procedures to combat money laundering, corruption and the financing of terrorism are effective means of keeping out illicit funds of politically exposed persons (PEPs).” On the returned Abacha loot, the Ambassador said: “Together with the states concerned. Switzerland seeks ways of returning assets to their rightful owners.

In the last 15 years, Switzerland has returned over $1.7 billon to their countries of origin. “Examples include the Abacha case in Nigeria. $700 million blocked in Swiss bank accounts have been returned to Nigeria.” The seminar in Abuja was a follow-up to the one which held in Dakar, Senegal last year and it would expectedly focus more on cross-cutting aspects of money laundering and the financing of terrorism.

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