Swiss poised to return Nigerian money

Nigeria's Chief of Army Staff Major-General Sani Abacha, who died in 1998, pictured in Lagos, Nigeria Keystone

Switzerland and Nigeria have signed a new corruption-fighting accord that sets the stage for returning more Nigerian money frozen by Swiss authorities.

This content was published on July 30, 2016 - 11:58

The diplomacy is part of Switzerland’s broader, decades-old effort to return stolen or embezzled funds seized from accounts held by dictators in Swiss banks.

African news outlets reported on Saturday that the Swiss ambassador to Nigeria, Eric Mayoraz, said at the accord-signing that the Swiss were in the process of repatriating $321 million (CHF311 million) siphoned off by the family of Nigeria’s former dictator Sani Abacha and confiscated by Switzerland.

Mayoraz reportedly said some $722 million (CHF700 million) of the confiscated money had so far been repatriated and added that the signing of the accord would accelerate the legal process.

“The Abacha loot is a very active dossier that we are dealing with now,” he was quoted as saying in Nigeria’s Eagle Online newspaperExternal link. “If we will each do our share of the work, we will reach our goal; it will in the future be harder to profit from corruption and I am very proud of that.”

Pledge to boost cooperation

Mayoraz said the money was being returned to Nigeria because of Switzerland’s commitment to tackling trans-national crimes and fighting money laundering, and that the signed agreement between the two countries marked start of “a new era in our common fight against international crime”, Nigeria Today reported on SaturdayExternal link.

The Swiss Federal Office of Justice said in an online statement on FridayExternal link that the accord signed in the Nigerian capital Abuja “should in particular support the Nigerian government in its fight against corruption”.

“This fight is in the interests of a clean Swiss financial center,” the office said, adding that the agreement “does not create new rights and obligations” in handing criminal and legal matters but rather aims to improve direct communication and efficient cooperation.

In March, Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter and Nigerian Justice Minister Abubakar Malami San signed a letter of intentExternal link to quickly and equitably return the CHF321 million from frozen accounts, under the monitoring of the World Bank.

Switzerland recently passed a new law that aims to speed restitution of illicit funds and to show that it is no longer the banker of choice for foreign despots.

The country says it has returned at least $1.8 billion in stolen or embezzled funds seized from accounts held by dictators in Swiss banks.

A long wait

Nigeria is one of the countries in Sub-Saharan Africa where Switzerland "focuses its greatest efforts to safeguard its interests", the Swiss foreign ministry saysExternal link.

The funds taken by the Abacha clan while Sani Abacha was in power from 1994-1998 have long been of great interest to the Nigeria government, which believes the Abacha clan may have diverted as much as $5 billion from the Nigerian treasury into foreign accounts, including some in Switzerland.

The return of the Abacha money frozen by the Swiss, however, had to await the abandonment of criminal proceedings in 2015 against Abba Abacha, the son of the former dictator, and a July 2014 deal by Nigeria and the Abacha family.

A coalition of Swiss and Nigerian NGOs have urged authorities of both countriesExternal link to insist that the money is returned through a transparent process and used for public projects that improve Nigerians’ living conditions.

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