The Federal Government yesterday rose in stout defence of its decision to stop the trial of Mohammed Abacha, over his alleged involvement in the stealing of about N446.3b from its coffers between 1995 and 1998.
The government yesterday claimed that its decision was not only the best in the circumstance, but also very much in the public interest.
The Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Mr Mohammed Adoke, who wielded his powers under Section 174 of the 1999 Constitution to withdraw the charge against Abacha, explained that the stoppage of the trial was to enable government recover over billions of dollars from the Abacha family.
He said the monies are stashed in various banks in different currencies and explained that though the battle to recover various funds allegedly stolen by the Abachas began more than 16 years ago, the on-going effort by the President Goodluck Jonathan administration was a greater achievement.
In the charge now withdrawn by the government from court, Mohammed was alleged to have between August and December 1995, at Abuja, dishonestly received $36,480,000.00, made up of cash and travellers cheques, property of the Federal Government believed to have been stolen.
It was also alleged that late son of former maximum military head of state, Mohammed, between August and December 1995 at Abuja, voluntarily assisted in concealing $57,960,000.00 believed to have been stolen from the Federal Government.
The charge further accused Mohammed to have between October and December 1996 at Abuja, dishonestly received $26,913,500.00 also believed to have been stolen from the government.
The alleged offences were said to be punishable under Sections 317 and 319 of the Penal Code.
The withdrawal of the charge had sparked off allegations against the Jonathan government, that it was not committed to fighting corruption.
An international organisation, Transparency International, TI, had also said that the government’s decision signified that the rich could engage in corruption in Nigeria with impunity.
But reacting yesterday vide a four-page statement, the AGF faulted critics of the decision, including TI, saying the criticism were done without having the facts of the case.
The statement read in part: “Our attention has been drawn to the recent statement by Transparency International, TI, criticising the very robust efforts of the Jonathan administration towards the recovery of stolen assets from the Abacha family and its associates.
“In the statement, TI accused the government of encouraging impunity by allowing the Abacha family to be set free because “allowing the theft of public funds to go unpunished sends the wrong message that those with powerful connections can act with impunity.”
“It also added that “the case should have been fully prosecuted, and the government has not given adequate reasons for dropping the charges.”
“We wish to state that the statement is not only an unfortunate rush to judgement without the benefit of facts, but also that nothing could be further from the truth.
“The Federal Government of Nigeria is currently pursuing recovery proceedings against the Abacha family and its associates in Liechtenstein, Luxemburg, and the United Kingdom.
“The Federal Government of Nigeria has also made a request for Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters to the United States of America in respect of the stolen assets within that jurisdiction.”
According to the AGF, “Government is also working assiduously with the Department of Justice of the United States in respect of the forfeiture proceedings it commenced against the Abacha family and its associates.
“The proceedings will make it possible for the Abacha family and its associates to forfeit over $550m and £95,910 pounds sterling in 10 accounts and six investment portfolios linked to the Abachas in France, Britain, British Virgin Islands and the United States.