The United Kingdom has thrown it weights behind the United States in resisting a plan by the Nigerian Government to give Kebbi State Governor, Atiku Bagudu, about $110m (N41.8bn) out of the $155m (N58.9bn) stolen by late Sani Abacha.
The US, the UK and Nigeria are involved in a dispute over investment portfolios worth $155m traced to Abacha and held in trust for Bagudu and his family.
Nigeria is seeking the approval of a UK court for Nigeria to take ownership of the assets before returning 70 per cent of the proceeds to Bagudu under the terms of a 2018 deal.
Nigeria’s Attorney-General, Abubakar Malami (SAN), has denied ever entering a deal with Bagudu but court papers say otherwise.
The UK government’s National Crime Agency is now “opposing the Federal Republic of Nigeria’s application,” according to a motion filed by Bagudu’s brother, Ibrahim, to the District Court for the District of Columbia in the US capital on March 30.
The US Department of Justice said in February that its Nigerian counterpart is hindering its efforts to recover the allegedly laundered money from the UK.
Bagudu was part of a network controlled by Abacha that “embezzled, misappropriated and extorted billions from the government of Nigeria,” according to the DOJ.
While successive Nigerian governments have repatriated billions of dollars looted by Abacha, who died in office in 1998, the administration of Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari, says it’s prevented from assisting America’s ongoing forfeiture efforts by an agreement between Bagudu and a previous government in 2003.
Abacha is estimated to have stolen as much as $5bn during his five-year rule.
That 2003 settlement, which was approved by a UK court, allowed Bagudu to return $163m to Nigeria “without admitting to wrongdoing,” according to US court filings.
In return, the government dropped all outstanding civil and criminal claims against him. Bagudu was elected a senator in 2009 and the governor of Kebbi state six years later.
Five years after the US launched fresh forfeiture proceedings against him, Bagudu and Buhari’s administration struck a new deal in October 2018 to transfer ownership of the investment portfolios to the Nigerian state, which would immediately pay 98.5m euros to the Kebbi governor and his affiliates.
The terms of the updated settlement can’t be implemented while Nigeria’s application in a UK court is pending and a freezing order is still in place, according to a motion by Ibrahim Bagudu, who is entitled to a $100,000 annuity from the funds and is contesting the US confiscation efforts.
Neither the Bagudus nor representatives of the DoJ, NCA, Nigeria’s Attorney General or Ibrahim Bagudu responded to requests for comment.