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$700 Million Stolen by Dictator Returned, Nigeria

More than $700 Million Stolen by Dictator Returned to Nigeria

World Bank's Wolfowitz cites international cooperation in funds return

By Charles W. Corey
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington – More than $700 million stolen by the late dictator Sani Abacha has been returned to the people of Nigeria, sending a signal worldwide that there is “no safe harbor for stolen funds,” World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz said September 27.

The World Bank president announced the action at a press conference at World Bank headquarters in Washington. He was joined by Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Swiss Secretary of State in the Ministry of Economic Affairs Jean-Daniel Gerber.

Wolfowitz said the return of the stolen funds, from Swiss financial institutions, represents one of the first such cases of international cooperation and may set an important precedent. "Corruption is not just the problem of developing countries," he told reporters. "The developed countries have a responsibility, too, and part of that responsibility is to make it as hard as possible for corrupt governments to hide the money that they steal and to help in its return."

Okonjo-Iweala said the current Nigerian government has been very committed to fighting corruption and has made it clear that its focus on transparency, good governance and fighting corruption is real. "We are grateful that the Swiss government has set an example for others," he said.

In separate remarks, Gerber said the Swiss government has a fundamental interest in ensuring that it does not receive illicitly acquired assets. The country's banking secrecy laws, he explained, do not apply to assets of criminal origin.

"Repatriating illegally acquired funds is an important tool in the fight against corruption. ... It also is a significant potential source for development financing," he said.

Okonjo-Iweala pledged that the returned funds would be put directly into poverty-reduction programs. "We want to assure the public that money we’re are getting back is put to use in poverty reduction and work creation programs, to support health, education, agriculture, roads, water, everything that has to do with improving the lives of the Nigerian people," he said.

The World Bank is helping the Nigerian government through a Public Expenditure Management and Financial Accountability Review (PEMFAR) to ensure that additional budget resources, including these and other repatriated funds, are channeled to support the key sectors listed by the finance minister. The Swiss government is providing support for the review with a grant.

The late General Abacha, who died in office, served as Nigerian head of state from 1993 to 1998.

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