Despite attempts by the Muhammadu Buhari administration to deny the transfer of $110 million stolen from Nigeria’s treasury by late military tyrant, Sani Abacha, to Mr Abacha’s most profligate money launderer and current governor of Kebbi State, Abubakar Bagudu, United States court papers obtained by PREMIUM TIMES show that the administration signed two agreements with Mr Bagudu that effectively sealed the transfer of the money to the governor.
Mr Bagudu is a close friend of President Muhammadu Buhari as well as a top member of the ruling All Progressives Congress.
The court documents also reveal that the Buhari administration is vigorously challenging a move by the United States government to further question Ibrahim Bagudu, the governor’s elder brother in relation to the laundered fund. The administration is also fighting to thwart America’s effort to remove the confidential classification of the agreements, which would make available for public scrutiny as well as being presented as evidence in court.
The court papers further rubbish the claim by Mr Bagudu that he had done nothing wrong and that the United States government was merely trying to use him as an excuse to confiscate the recovery of the money by the Nigeria government.
One of the agreements, signed on October 26, 2018, was an amendment of a 2003 agreement signed between the Bagudu family and the Nigerian government to settle all of Mr Bagudu’s civil claim against Nigeria and all of Nigeria’s civil claim, administrative, and criminal claims against Mr Bagudu for helping Mr Abacha to launder the funds.
The other agreement, signed on September 6, 2019, was a Deed of Variation, which amended the 2018 agreement by extending its termination date from August 30, 2019 to February 28, 2020.
The document counters the misleading explanations given by the Office of Nigeria’s Attorney General and supporters of Mr Bagudu and the Nigerian government.
After Bloomberg broke the news that the U.S. government was resisting a plan by the Nigerian government to transfer over $110 million to Mr Bagudu from money stolen from Nigerian treasury by the late dictator, Abubakar Malami, Nigeria’s Attorney General, denied that there was any such agreement between the government and Mr Bagudu.
Mr Malami on Friday released a statement that apparently sought to obfuscate the government’s agreement to pay Mr Bagudu $110 million with a different portion of the Abacha loot recently repatriated to Nigeria from the Island of Jersey.
“It is pertinent to recall at this juncture that prior to the 2020 agreement with the United States and the Island of Jersey, the Federal Government has signed an agreement for the return of over $300m in 2017 which was effectively deployed for the purpose for which it was agreed to be applied without any issue of reputation,” his office said.
“The FG is also negotiating the recovery of assets from several countries and the agreements for the recovery and the procedure for recovery are always presented to Federal Executive Council for approval and duly made public once the processes have been concluded.
“No third-party interest was captured in the memo that was approved by the council.”
What Mr Malami did not reveal was that the Buhari administration had actually agreed to transfer $110 million from another portion of the Abacha loot laundered by Mr Bagudu and kept in a trust held in the United Kingdom.
The decision to pay Mr Bagudu $110 million was taken following an amendment of a 2003 settlement agreement between the Federal Government and the Kebbi State governor. That amendment took place in 2018.
2003 Settlement Agreement
In 2003, the administration of Olusegun Obasanjo entered into an agreement with Mr Bagudu, which allowed the repatriation of $163 million to Nigeria. In exchange, Nigeria renounced any interest whatsoever in Mr Bagudu’s other assets which include funds domiciled in Blue Holding trusts held in the United Kingdom as well as any future plan to prosecute him for laundering the stolen funds on behalf of Mr Abacha.
Funds held in Blue Holdings trusts are believed to be part of Nigeria’s commonwealth Mr Bagudu laundered for Mr Abacha. The contested funds are different from the $300 million Abacha loot recently repatriated to Nigeria after a tripartite agreement between Nigeria, Jersey and the United States, although it was repatriated from the accounts of one of Mr Bagudu’s money laundering vehicles, Doraville properties domiciled at Deutsche Bank in Jersey.
In 2012, the Goodluck Jonathan administration requested the help of the U.S. in reclaiming government’s assets part of which are believed to be held in Blue holding trusts. Mr Bagudu immediately responded to the request by filing a claim of a breach of agreement in a UK court.
Immediately Mr Badugu filed the claim, Nigeria withdrew its request for the U.S. to help it retrieve government funds and subsequently declined repeated calls to assist the U.S. since then. However, the U.S. did not stop pursuing the forfeiture of the assets.
Despite Nigeria’s withdrawal of its request for U.S. assistance to retrieve its funds held in Blue Holding companies and its refusal to subsequently assist the U.S. in the forfeiture of the funds, Mr Bagudu obtained a breach of agreement judgement against Nigeria from the UK court.
Nigeria claimed that the judgement exposed Nigeria to the payment of an amount equivalent to any amount as may be forfeited to the United States.
Buhari govt’s plan to transfer $110 million to Bagudu
The Buhari administration did not appeal the judgement obtained by Mr Bagudu from the UK court. Instead, it quickly devised a plan, using the 2018 agreement, to transfer $110 million to Mr Bagudu and his brother, Ibrahim.
According to the 2018 amendment, which is aimed at preventing the U.S. from assessing the funds held in Blue Holding, Nigeria is “the legal owner of the relevant trust assets”. This effectively transfers the ownership of the funds held in Blue Holding companies from Mr Bagudu to Nigeria.
The 2018 Amended Agreement also stated that parties will use all “reasonable endeavours” to obtain a “variation” of the UK court’s prohibition order in order for the assets which is worth €141 million ($157.5 million), to be transferred to Nigeria, which effectively clears Nigeria of any liability of the breach of the 2003 Settlement Agreement.
The 2018 Amendment then stated that having received the money, Nigeria will then send €98.5 million ($110 million) to an account identified by the trustees of Blue Family Trust, owned by the Bagudu family, thus allowing Mr Bagudu and his affiliates to have “peaceful enjoyment” of the money.
The parties (Nigeria and Mr Bagudu) to the 2018 Amended Agreement argued that the payment of the money would satisfy Mr Bagudu’s default judgement against Nigeria for breaching the 2003 Settlement Agreement.
But the U.S. argued that the 2018 Agreement, which was reached just seven weeks after the court had forfeited another Abacha loot related fund held by the Bagudu in another trust, serves to conceal the forfeited and remaining assets out of the United Kingdom and away from the court’s judgement and the arrest warrant placed on the assets.
It further described the 2018 Agreement as scheme “designed to wrest control of the proceeds of corruption away from the U.S and U.K courts, so that $110 million can be secreted into the hands of one of the primary architects (Mr Bagudu) of the kleptocracy scheme.”
The U.S. Court also ruled that by signing the 2018 agreement with the Nigerian government, Mr Bagudu cannot continue to lay claim to a breach of the 2003 settlement agreement as the ownership of the funds in the trust no longer belonged to him, but to Nigeria.
“Surely it is relevant that the settlement agreement has been amended to declare just the opposite that Nigeria owns the assets,” the court said.
The court papers thus revealed that Mr Malami was being economical with the truth when he claimed that Mr Bagudu was pursuing separate cases in court in the United State and the United Kingdom to assert his right in connection to the Abacha loot, without stating the active role played by the Buhari administration in assisting Mr Bagudu to reclaim the funds which are part of the money he laundered for Mr Abacha.
The court papers also discredit Mr Bagudu’s denial of any wrongdoing and that the U.S. was merely using him as an excuse to confiscate recovery of the money by the Nigerian government as 70 per cent of the said fund would eventually be transferred to him for his “peaceful enjoyment”, as the agreement stated.
Nigeria chose secrecy over transparency
The court papers also exposed the Buhari administration double standards in its commitment to the repatriation of the Abacha loots.
Mr Malami has repeatedly and publicly pledged Nigeria’s cooperation with the U.S. and other international partners as well as its commitment to transparency in the repatriation of Abacha loot. However, court documents in our possession revealed that Nigeria filed an interested party application on February 3, 2020, challenging a ruling of a U.S. District Court obtained by the U.S. government to unseal the confidential 2018 agreement.
In the application which demanded the court to reconsider its decision to unseal the 2018 Agreement, Nigeria through its counsel, Anthony Egbase, argued that unsealing the agreement without reference to the 2003 agreement “paints an incomplete and misleading picture and subjects Nigeria to unwarranted prejudice.”
The U.S., however, argued that if Nigeria was concerned that the unsealing of the document would paint a misleading picture, it should simply unseal additional documents to correct or supplement the record.
Nigeria also argued that U.S. court had erred in its December 23, 2019 ruling in concluding that there is a need for public access to the documents because it deals with a case that has international significance as the funds were laundered internationally. Mr Egbase argued that the documents are sovereign acts of Nigeria predicated on its official policy on Voluntary Asset Recovery Scheme issued under Presidential Executive Order 008.
But PREMIUM TIMES analysis of the Executive Order 008, which was signed by President Buhari on October 8, 2018, shows that it exclusively deals with tax-related issues. The order grants immunity to Nigerians in default in payment of tax on offshore assets as long as they voluntarily declare their offshore assets in exchange for a one-time levy of 35 per cent on the assets domiciled offshore.
The contentious assets are proceeds of what the U.S. believes to criminal activity (money laundering) and not legitimate assets owned offshore.
Curiously, the Buhari administration also challenged the ruling of the same court for Ibrahim Bagudu to be further deposed by a U.S. prosecutor in relation to the contested funds in Blue Holding.
Nigeria argued that given that the instant civil asset forfeiture implicates the 2003 Agreement, Nigeria cannot provide further assistance to the United States without subjecting itself to renewed liability for breach of the 2003 Agreement.
“Accordingly, Nigeria has, through its Attorney General, repeatedly advised the United States of its inability to provide discovery assistance with respect to forfeiture of the Blue Holdings assets. Additionally, Nigeria has repeatedly notified the United States of the impropriety, under Nigerian law, of a foreign sovereign making unilateral contact with any agency of the Nigerian government or citizens of Nigeria on criminal matters or taking witness depositions without recourse to or approval of the Nigerian Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice,” Mr Egbase argued.
But the U.S. argued that Nigeria has lost its right to challenge the ruling of the U.S. court because it was notified and given ample time to respond but chose not to until after the ruling was given.
It also said that Nigeria’s argument that it could not respond to the application before a ruling was given because the document needed interagency review which took time, was nonsensical. Lawyers to the U.S. government said Nigeria could have applied to the court for an extension of the deadline to respond while waiting for the interagency reviewed to be done, but it did not.
Multiple attempts by PREMIUM TIMES to get the presidency to formally comment has been fruitless.
The best that has so far come from the presidency has been an unsigned comment by an official who refused to be named. The official also tried to shift the blame of the transfer of the $110 million to Obasanjo administration.
“Yes, there is a $100 million yet to be resolved which the Obasanjo administration ceded to Senator Abubakar Bagudu, an agreement that is being litigated because the US government itself does not recognize that Obasanjo-Bagudu settlement,” the official claimed.