Lagos lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), has told the Federal Government to immediately reject the conditionality imposed by the government of Switzerland for the repatriation of $321million Abacha loot in Swiss banks and other financial institutions. In a letter to President Muhammadu Buhari on behalf of his law firm, Falana described as insulting and an unlawful intervention the request of the Swiss government that the World Bank should supervise the spending of the stolen money on return.
Recently, the Swiss Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Eric Mayoraz, disclosed that the Swiss government would soon return $321m of Abacha loot to Nigeria and as part of the process of repatriation, Mayoraz said the government of Switzerland has requested the World Bank to supervise the spending of the returned loot.
“We note that grand corruption, money laundering and the return of stolen assets have long become major issues of concern to the international community.
“We further note that Switzerland has acceded to all the relevant international treaties such as the United Nations Convention against Corruption for the return of assets.
“We believe that the conditionality imposed on Nigeria, which allows the World Bank to supervise the spending of returned assets by the Nigerian government breaches international law principles and standards.
“In particular, Article 57 of the UN Convention against Corruption requires states parties to return assets ‘on the basis of a final judgment in the requesting state party.’
However, in the event of no final judgment, Falana noted, Article 57 allows for assets to be returned on the basis of “agreements or mutually acceptable arrangements on a case-by-case basis for the final disposal of confiscated property.”
This, he argued, indicates that Switzerland lacks legal legal authority to impose conditions on Nigeria as they relate to the spending of recovered assets.
While agreeing that the UN Convention Against Corruption contains provisions for special considerations when states parties are concluding agreements, he maintained that this does not empower the Swiss government to unilaterally impose conditions on Nigeria.
“In addition to breaching the clear provisions of Article 57, the imposition of any conditions on the Nigerian government is a flagrant violation of the principles of sovereignty and non-intervention founded in Article 2 of the United Nations Charter.
“Imposing conditions on Nigeria regarding the spending of returned assets is disproportionate and amounts to an unlawful intervention because Switzerland has no legal or moral right to the assets,” he stated.
He further argued that Switzerland is hugely complicit in the stashing of stolen assets from Nigeria in its banks and other financial institutions. The lawyer also took aim at the World Bank, which he said has not exhibited sufficient transparency and accountability in its supervision of spending of previously returned Abacha loot.
“For example, the World Bank has so far refused to satisfactorily disclose information on the spending of recovered Abacha loot requested by Nigerian anticorruption NGO Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, (SERAP).
“The Bank has been unable or unwilling to consistently apply its own Access to Information Policy to disclose key information to civil society groups and other stakeholders.
“In the SERAP case, the World Bank failed and/or neglected to provide several portions of the information requested on the spending of recovered Abacha loot managed by the Bank. “Although the Bank’s Access to Information Policy recognizes the right to an appeals process when a request for information in the World Bank’s possession is improperly or unreasonably denied, the appeal lodged by SERAP has been unreasonably and unduly delayed,” he observed.
Falana also noted that Switzerland and the United States have made unfulfilled promises to return forfeited assets worth over $800 million, arguing that Western countries have been frustrating the repatriation of Nigeria’s stolen wealth being illegally warehoused by them.
He advised the Federal Government to initiate legal proceedings against the Swiss government if it fails to return the loot without insulting conditions.
“In the proposed suit, Nigeria should claim punitive and exemplary damages and interests from Switzerland for keeping the loot for over 20 years,” Falana counseled.
He concluded by urging the Federal Government to collaborate with relevant civil society organizations to mount local and international campaign aimed at ensuring full compliance by Switzerland, the United States and other Western countries to international law principles of accountability, proportionality, sovereignty, equality, fairness and non-interference.