Any progress at all in recovering losses is after all better than a total stalemate, which describes the federal government’s approach to the long running battle for the recovery of the nation’s stolen wealth. Government has agreed to withdraw criminal proceedings for money laundering against the Abacha family and its associates in order to facilitate the recovery of about $380million from the Luxembourg proceedings and $550million from forfeiture proceedings instituted by the US Department of Justice.
Transparency International has criticized government’s compromising decision, contending that letting the theft of public funds go unpunished sends a wrong message for people in power to act with impunity. While the anti crime agency’ s stance is understandable as a principle to discourage criminal acts, there is no doubt that the lingering legal battle has hindered progress towards recovering the funds and the present measure by government is yielding the desired results.
Recoveries of the Abacha loot already made and those expected to be made are estimated at $1billion. The steps taken by government are said to have resulted in the recovery of $226.3 million from Liechtenstein in addition to the 7.5 million Euros recovered from the Abacha family and associates in Liechtenstein in 2011.
The Abacha family’s undertaking not to contest the proceedings and to cooperate fully with the government in the recovery proceedings is about the best that can be secured in an already bad situation. These undertakings could not have been extracted without the sustained pressure government has brought to bear on the Abacha family and its associates.
For the many years that the cases have lasted, huge legal fees have been running and somebody has been smiling to the banks. If the cost of prosecution is made public, it might as well warrant a different probe by Transparency International.
Corruption in government did not end with the end of late Sani Abacha’s government; it has instead multiplied since then. Whatever the nation lost in stolen wealth under Abacha, it has lost many times over in the last 15 years of civil rule.
Nigeria’s anti crime agencies presently have their hands full of criminal cases against ex- government officials. Of the hundreds of billions of naira EFCC is presently charging these suspects for, none of them has decided to return one naira to the nation. In consideration of this situation therefore, the Abacha loot compromise is a great milestone attained in stolen wealth recovery in this country. Government’s decision to suspend legal proceedings against the Abacha family has provided a platform for us to make some progress.
We believe that the benchmark for measuring success on this matter is how much of the looted funds are eventually recovered, not how long the legal tussle lasts. We endorse the position of the government to recover what can be recovered as early as possible. It should not be read strictly as letting the Abacha family off the hook, as nothing prevents government from instituting fresh charges should new discoveries of criminality or facts on any of the cases emerge subsequently.
Apparently, the Abacha loot matter looks like a bad/doubtful debts situation, which is better negotiated than disputed in the law courts. It therefore makes sense to recover whatever is recoverable at any stage of the recovery process and forge ahead.
If banks had insisted on recovering full values for their toxic assets, many of them might still be carrying empty balance sheets with no new money to propel recovery forces. By recovering a fraction of bad asset values, the banks have been empowered to rebuild their operating capacities.
We see government’s decision on the matter as a right approach that is yielding fruits by way of cooperation of the Abacha family and in the actual recovery of the looted funds. If all the ex-government officials presently standing trial for looting public funds could reach the same type of compromise with government, it will go a long way to funding capital projects that cannot be undertaken presently for lack of funds.
For many years now, the federal government has not been able to fund capital projects without recourse to new borrowings. The rising debts are being contracted at some of the highest interest rates in the world. This is compounding government’s finances, which is gradually leading us once again to a debt service burden.
It makes sense also for government to apply the Abacha loot compromise to ex-government officials presently standing trial for looting public funds where they opt for similar treatment. Several ongoing court cases against ex-government officials have run for years with no convictions and no funds recovered but legal fees have kept on running. The approach to minimise recovery cost and achieve recovery as early as possible is a profound engagement strategy for asset recovery all over the world.