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Court decides to return Abacha millions

Sani Abacha was accused of bleeding his country dry Keystone

The Swiss Federal Court has ruled that hundreds of millions of dollars stashed in Switzerland by Nigeria’s late dictator, Sani Abacha, can return home.

This content was published on February 16, 2005 - 14:24

The country’s highest court in Lausanne on Tuesday essentially upheld a decision in August last year by the Federal Justice Office for the transfer of the money to the West African country.

The development paves the way for about $458 million (SFr620 million) of frozen funds to be released. The court ruled that it was clearly of criminal origin.

However, about $27 million is to remain blocked in Switzerland for the time being.

The court ruled that members of the Abacha family and business associates, who had contested the Justice Office’s decision, could submit evidence to try to prove that the funds were not acquired by criminal means.

But if they fail to do so, the money will be returned to Nigeria.

"It's the first time that Switzerland is giving money to a state without setting conditions," commented Enrico Monfrini, a lawyer representing Nigeria.

He added that as a result, Bern was "paving the way" for Abacha clan money to be returned to Nigeria from other countries.

Awaiting extradition

Among the complainants in the Swiss case were two sons of the ex-dictator. One of them, Abba, is currently awaiting extradition to Switzerland from Germany, where he was arrested in December.

Abba Abacha is accused of money laundering, fraud and breach of trust.

Earlier this month, the court rejected an appeal by the Abacha family, who had opposed the return of about $500 million to Nigeria.

Switzerland has already handed over about $200 million of the contested funds, which had been frozen in Swiss banks since 1999.

Sani Abacha is thought to have embezzled up to SFr3 billion from his country from 1993 until his death in 1998.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Switzerland's highest court has ruled that $458 million in frozen funds can be returned to Nigeria.

The money was stashed away by the late dictator, General Sani Abacha.

He is thought to have embezzled $3 billion from Nigeria before his death in 1998.

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