Lagos lawyer, Femi Falana, has asked the federal government to reject, without any further delay, the conditionality attached to the repatriation of the sum of $321 million Abacha loot from Switzerland to Nigeria.
The conditionality includes the supervision of the utilisation of the money by the World Bank.
Falana said that if Switzerland refuses to return the said $321 million without any conditionality, the government should not hesitate to initiate legal proceedings for the recovery of the asset.
The lawyer, who said this in an open letter he sent to the government, also advised that in the proposed suit, Nigeria should claim punitive and exemplary damages and interests from Switzerland for keeping the loot for over 20 years.
The letter reads in part: “We note that, recently, the Swiss ambassador to Nigeria, Mr Eric Mayoraz, disclosed that the Swiss government would soon return $321m of Abacha loot to Nigeria. As part of the process of repatriation, the ambassador claimed that the government of Switzerland has, unilaterally, requested the World Bank to supervise the spending of the returned loot.
“We note that grand corruption, money laundering and 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.”
Falana contended that Switzerland has no legal authority to impose conditions on Nigeria regarding the spending of recovered assets.
“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. Indeed, Switzerland is completely complicit for the stashing and depositing of stolen assets from Nigeria in its banks and other financial institutions.
“We are seriously concerned that the World Bank itself has not demonstrated sufficient level of 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).
“Having regard to the empty promises made so far by Switzerland and the United States to return forfeited assets worth over $800 million, it is clear that the Western countries will continue to frustrate the repatriation of the looted wealth of the nation being warehoused by them, albeit illegally.”
Falana urged the federal government to collaborate with relevant civil society organisations to mount a campaign, locally and internationally, to ensure full compliance by Switzerland, the United States and other Western countries to international law principles of accountability, sovereignty, equality, fairness and non-interference.