Abacha family loses bid at Supreme Court to access looted funds

Legal attempts by the family of the late military head of state, General Sani Abacha on Friday to regain access to the many accounts held by its members in banks in the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Jersey, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg which were blocked upon a directive by the Nigerian government in 1999 failed on Friday at the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court specifically held in its unanimous judgment that the appeal by family members of the late head of state was statute-barred.

A five-member panel of the apex court held, that it was rather late in the day for the Abacha family to query the decision taken by the Federal Government of Nigeria in 1999, via a letter authored by the then Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Kanu Agabi (SAN).

Justice Chima Nweze, who prepared the led judgment of the court, authored the panel’s lead judgment in the appeal marked: SC/68/2010, held among others, that in view of the evidence presented by parties, he was left with no other options than to uphold the earlier concurrent decisions of the two lower courts (the Federal High Court, Kano and the Court of Appeal, Kaduna division), to the effect that the action was statute-barred.

In the judgment which was read by Justice Amina Augie, who quoted him as saying: “In all forms, with the eloquent submission of the respondents’ counsel, and submissions anchored on the admitted evidence, I have no hesitation in affirming the concurrent decisions of the lower courts.

Accordingly, I hereby enter an order dismissing this appeal. I further affirm the concurrent findings and decisions of the lower courts.
Appeal dismissed.”

According to court documents, the then President Olusegun Obasanjo, in December 1999, authorised the then AGF, Agabi to request the Swiss authorities to freeze all bank accounts held in its jurisdiction by the late head of state, General Abacha, his children, servants, agents and any other individuals or companies liked to them between 1993 and 1998.

Nigeria government was also said to have requested the Swiss authorities to seize and detain all banking and other documents relating to the affected accounts, charge and prosecute all holders of such accounts, in order to recover and pay over to the Federal Government of Nigeria all monies falsely and fraudulently taken from the government and people of Nigeria.

Also, the FG was said to have engaged a foreign financial investigator, Enrico Monfrini of Hauchomann & Bottage in Geneva, Switzerland, to assist in recovering “all looted monies by Gen Abacha and his family members and other public servants and third parties who have used their position or participated as accomplices to misappropriate public funds.”

Following these steps by the Federal Government, the accounts of the Abachas found in Switzerland, United Kingdom, Jersey, Liechenstein and Luxembourg were frozen, an action members of the late head of state challenged by filing a suit, marked: FHC/KN/CS/6/2004, on January 28,
2004 before the Federal High Court, Kano.

The suit filed on behalf of the Abachas by Alhaji Abba Mohammed Sani, had the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Attorney General of the Federation as respondents.

After hearing parties, the court rendered its judgment in 2006, in which it upheld the argument by the respondents to the effect that the case was not only statute barred, but the plaintiff could not relitigate the same case that had been decided by the court’s Abuja division in suit: FHC/ABJ/CS/347/2001 brought by Sulgrave Holdings Inc & 19 others against the FRN & three others.

Alhaji Sani appealed the decision of the Federal High Court, Kano at the Court of Appeal, Kaduna. But in its judgment on December 15, 2009, the appellate court upheld the decision of the trail court and dismissed the appeal, a decision Alhaji Sani again appealed to the Supreme Court, which the apex court dismissed on Friday.

Other members of the Supreme Court’s five-man panel that heard the appeal, Justices Olukayode Ariwoola, Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, Augie and Paul Galumje, all agreed with the lead judgment as written by Justice Nweze.

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