The United States government has justified its opposition to plans by the Buhari administration to hand over $106 million of looted funds by the late former military dictator, Gen. Sani Abacha to the current governor of Kebbi State, Atiku Bagudu, saying such an action will be an unconscionable validation and reward for graft and impunity. A spokesperson for the Nigerian embassy in Washington DC refused to comment whether the documents were sent to the Nigerian government via the embassy; and a DOJ source who confirmed that the trove of evidence has been sent to the Nigerian government declined to confirm whether it was done through the Nigerian embassy in Washington or through official channels with the US embassy in Abuja.

The Buhari administration is arguing that a 17-year-old agreement signed between Bagudu and the Obasanjo administration entitles Bagudu to the funds and prevents Nigeria from assisting the US in further prosecution of corruption and money-laundering charges against the embattled Kebbi governor. But, lawyers from the Criminal Division of the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section of the US Department of Justice (DOJ) have reportedly sent a trove of evidence that Bagudu was the money-laundering kingpin for Abacha and his family, urging the Nigerian government to discount whatever agreement Bagudu signed with previous administrations, because such an agreement “was not in the public interest of Nigerians.” The DOJ wants Bagudu to be arrested and prosecuted.

The massive cache of documents, copies of which were obtained exclusively by expose the hidden financial dealings and offshore holdings of Bagudu and reveal how under Abacha; Bagudu and then finance minister, Anthony Ani, former National Security Adviser (NSA), Ismaila Gwarzo, and then CBN governor, Paul Ogwuma conspired with Gen. Abacha’s son, Mohammed Abacha to steal billions of dollars from the Nigerian government using criminal schemes; and then laundered the money through a network of shell companies, offshore banks and investment portfolios in tax havens from the British Virgin Islands to the Bailiwick of Jersey.

The scale and magnitude of the theft Bagudu perpetrated against the Nigerian people is, in many ways, the story of Abacha’s money-laundering itself. The leaked documents offer more than a snapshot of one man’s business methods or a catalog of his more unsavory activities. It allows a far-reaching view into how so much was stolen by so few and the way Bagudu has worked to keep his activities secret- offering clues as to why the US-led efforts to recover a substantial part of the Abacha loot have faltered.

The cache of documents covers Abacha’s reign of terror, from 1993 and allows a never-before-seen view inside the money-laundering exploits of Governor Bagudu; providing a detail look at how he channeled Abacha’s dark money through the global financial system, robbing the CBN and stripping the Nigerian treasury of billions; and in no small measure, contributing to the general debilitation and immiserating of Nigeria as a nation.

The documents make it clear that Atiku Bagudu was the main driver behind the creation of hard-to-trace companies in the British Virgin Islands, and other offshore havens used to launder money stolen by Abacha and his family. The files list 12 banks and 16 shadow companies and five investment portfolios that Bagudu set up for the Abacha family to hide their loot. These include:

Assets held in account number 80020796, in the name of Doraville Properties located at Deutsche Bank International Ltd in the Bailiwick of Jersey, last valued at approx. $287 million

• Assets held in account number S-104460 in the name of Mohammed Sani, at HSBC Fund Administration Ltd in the Bailiwick of Jersey, last valued at approx. $12 million

 Assets held in account number 223405880IUSD, in the name of Rayville International, SA at Banque SBA in Paris, France, last valued at approx. $1 million

• Assets held in account number 223406510PUSD, in the name of Standard Alliance Financial Services Ltd at Banque SBA in Paris, France, last valued at approx. $144 million

• Assets held in account numbers 100130688 and 100138409, in the name of Mecosta Securities, at Standard Bank, UK, last valued at approx. £21.7 million

• Assets held at HSBC Life (Europe) formerly held in account number 37060762 in the name of Mohammed Sani at Midland Life International Ltd, and assets in account number 38175076, at HSBC Bank last valued at approx. $1.6 million

• Combined assets held in the name of Blue Holding Pte. Ltd., on behalf of Ridley Group Ltd and the Ridley Trust, at JO Hambro Investment Management Ltd, UK and James Hambro & Partners LLP, UK last valued at approx. €95,910,222.84 million.

The documents which included evidence from the World Bank Stolen Asset Recovery (STAR) initiative also provide details of how Atiku Bagudu; more than Mohammed Abacha and even Gen Abacha himself, concocted fraudulent schemes to steal Nigeria blind. Among other things, Atiku Bagudu played an instrumental role in setting up and executing the complicated financial transactions used to launder the stolen billions and remains a signatory and corporate representative designated on many of the assets owned by the Abacha family.

The records reveal a pattern of covert maneuvers by Bagudu, using banks and offshore companies linked to his network to move money in secret transactions, disguised payments, backdated documents and hidden ownership within the inner circle of Abacha’s dictatorial regime. The documents listed five offshore corporate entities in the notorious tax haven of British Virgin Islands created by Bagudu to launder Abacha’s stolen billions. These are: Doraville Properties Corporation, Mecosta Securities Inc., Rayville International SA; Ridley Group Ltd, and Standard Alliance Financial Services Ltd.

Although some $308 million of the Abacha loot is expected to be returned to the Nigerian government in April after a tripartite agreement how the funds will be expended on three major infrastructural projects, US DOJ sources told over $2.1 billion of stolen wealth and assets remained under the control of Bagudu and Mohammed Abacha. Of this amount, about $458 million in cash and assets have already been seized and forfeited by the United States, as proceeds of corruption and money-laundering. The sources said the US will not be inclined to return the impounded cash and assets to the Nigerian government, pursuant to the 1989 treaty on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters between the US and Nigeria if the Buhari administration insists on handing over some of the looted funds to the very man who looted the funds in the first place.

“To allow this travesty to stand is to say that there is no real penalty for corruption, which remains Nigeria’s number one problem because of its wide negative implications on the citizens… Allowing a man who stole billions to hold public office and walk the streets freely cannot serve as deterrent to other corrupt and criminally minded persons,” noted a DOJ source, who elected anonymity because he has not been authorized to officially comment on the matter. will be publishing exclusive reports to expose how, as the gasoline that ran Abacha’s money-laundering engine, Bagudu, created an anonymous offshore network system sprawling global bankers and investment portfolio managers and go-betweens who conspired to create complex structures to disguise the origins of Abacha’s dirty money. The files expose foreign bank accounts and offshore investment companies controlled by Bagudu and his family members, including his wives and children and his brother, has been described by one US DOJ official as “Nigeria’s Panama Papers”. That story is next.

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