INVESTIGATION: Dubai real estate links point to hidden Abacha loot
11 Nov 2019

Twenty years after the controversial demise of one of Nigeria’s last military leaders, Sani Abacha, one sore thumb still aching local and international financial crime investigators is the full extent of his legacy of corruption.

In the years since 2002, when the first insight into the depth of corruption during his administration was revealed, Nigerians came to know through out-of-court settlement the Abachas struck with the Nigerian and Swiss governments that the family will return $1.2 billion siphoned out of Nigeria by the late general through a huge criminal network and enterprise. Still, that offered no adequate tally of the famous loot.

While part of the terms of settlement allowed the Abacha family keep about $100 million of the funds, Nigeria’s position was to keep an eye on international investigations around the late dictator. The New York Times reported then, that the Nigerian government persisted in its efforts to track more accounts holding funds that had been siphoned out of the country by the same family.

One of the points of contention in the campaign for the return of what has now been tagged the “Abacha loot,” however, was the status of some $90 million claimed to have been appropriated by Abdulkadir Abacha, a brother to the late military despot, and which the Swiss prosecutors had refused to unfreeze and release to Nigeria.

Now fresh indications have emerged regarding substantial but hitherto concealed property holdings by members of the family in the Dubai real estate market.

Working collaboratively alongside the Cell Norbert Zongo for Investigative Journalism (CENOZO), Finance Uncovered, and Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), PREMIUM TIMES CENTRE FOR INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM has now uncovered fresh vistas based on leaked information on property ownership in Dubai indicating just how much investigators still know of the footprints of wealth connected to the Abacha loot.

Whereas years of investigative probing have revealed that the Abachas were involved in numerous cases of money laundering, looting and other corrupt practices during the regime of the late Head of State, according to Nigeria’s anti-corruption agency, EFCC, the hitherto concealed properties in the UAE is the latest in this seemingly unending looting of Nigeria’s treasury by the infamous Abacha family.

Nigeria had, in 2018, signed several bilateral agreements with the UAE which covers trade, finance and judicial matters. The agreement on judicial matters includes mutual assistance on criminal and commercial matters, which covers the recovery and repatriation of stolen wealth. This agreement means the Nigerian government can immediately move on matters such as the unearthed Abacha loot.

The discovery and subsequent use of the Abacha loot has always drawn comments from the accountability sector of society and this instance is no different. Olarenwaju Suraju, Chairman, HEDA Resource Centre, reacting to this new discovery, urged the Nigerian government to quickly engage the UAE authorities using the bilateral agreement between both countries to freeze the assets and move for prosecution and final forfeiture. He expects that the Nigerian government will pursue return of the assets as fast as other properties were pursued. He went on further to say “government must make moves to ensure forfeiture of assets acquired using proceeds of crime by past and present public office holders.

The Executive Director of the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ), David Ugolor, also emphasised the opportunity that the bilateral agreement between both countries presents in handling this instance of loot discovery. He pointed out that similar commitments exist between Nigeria and countries like the U.S. and UK, recalling the 2016 Anti-Corruption Summit where both countries committed to helping Nigeria recover ill-gotten funds and assets of corrupt Nigerians by sharing information. The GFAR summit in December of 2017 also promised to help developing countries recover their looted assets by providing technical support and information sharing. Mr Ugolor further said that he believes Nigerian anti-corruption agencies have what it takes to go after corrupt individuals to recover assets and to have them prosecuted. He further said “the government should have a politically exposed persons register to help fight against corruption and expose corrupt public office holders and business people”.

Commenting on new revelations of Abacha Loot, Auwal Rafsanjani, Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) expressed disappointment that 20 years after, Nigeria is still unearthing ill-gotten funds carted away by the Abacha regime. He said Nigeria struggles with controlling Illicit Financial Flows and will continue to struggle until there is serious reforms in the existing policies and legal framework to fight illicit financial flows within Nigeria and abroad. The establishment of a beneficial ownership register is important to the fight against IFF, and the absence of such a register gives way for corrupt politicians, and business people to take advantage of the situation by hiding behind fronts/companies to loot ill-gotten funds via real estate, banks, oil companies and others.

Mr Rafsanjani revealed that the Extractives Industries Transparency Initiatives (EITI) almost suspended Nigeria because they failed to accomplish their commitments. The same applies to the Open Government Partnership (OGP) where the Nigerian government had committed to creating a beneficial ownership register but still has not done it. He further said, “We have been having problems in returning stolen assets to the country because the government is mostly making political pronouncements instead of creating policies to curb corruption, hence, making it difficult for the international community to take the Nigerian government serious”. He pointed out that there is no framework to manage repatriation of funds and assets thus making it difficult to assess the assets recovered by anti-corruption agencies like the EFCC, ICPC etc. He concluded his statements emphasizing the significance of political will in creating holistic frameworks to fight IFF which costs the country billions of dollars yearly and the successful repatriation of stolen assets. He also said collaboration with the media and CSOs will be important in winning the fight

Multimillion Naira Abacha Properties Stashed in Dubai

According to the leaked database of property holdings in Dubai, Abdulkadir Abacha, who alongside Mohammed, a son of the late Head of State, had played a significant role in moving much of these illicit funds offshore, has six properties in  Dubai, with a combined estimated value of a little over $3 million.

The properties traced to Abdulkadir Abacha are located in Dubai Downtown, Marina, and Jumeirah Beach Residence. According to the leaked data, Abdulkadir holds five of the six properties in his name, while the final property, located at the Jumeirah Beach Residence, is owned by a Nigerian company that has been traced to the former dictator’s brother.

The company, registered in Nigeria and with RC no 123141, is named Prospectors Marketers International Limited. The company’s resolution document from the Corporate Affairs Commission reveals Abdulkadir Abacha as the highest shareholder in Prospectors Marketers International Limited, with a 90 per cent shareholding and Zainab Abdulkadir, who could be either his wife or daughter, owning the other 10 per cent of the shares.

It also appears that one Kindway Enterprises Ltd is a shareholder of Prospectors Marketers International Limited, and a search for the ownership of this other entity again revealed Abdulkadir Abacha as its highest shareholder, with an 80% shareholding, while the remaining shares are evenly owned by Fatimah Abdulkadir and Zainab Abdulkadir, who also appear to be his relatives.

By Bassim Al-Hussaini, Premium Times, 5 November 2019

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