Swiss authorities have released part of the funds placed in Swiss banks by the former Nigerian dictator, Sani Abacha.
On Wednesday, canton Geneva announced that Switzerland would return SFr110 million ($88 million) to Nigeria.
“This is the first time that we pay back money to Nigeria,” the chief prosecutor of canton Geneva, Daniel Zappelli, said after the announcement.
The money is part of the SFr800 million frozen by the Swiss authorities in 1999 after Nigeria asked for assistance in investigating the financial network allegedly set up by Abacha.
Nigeria believes that Abacha, who died of a heart attack in 1998, siphoned off almost SFr4 billion, which he invested in Britain, Luxembourg, Jersey and Liechtenstein as well as Switzerland.
Zapelli also announced he had passed sentence on a British financial intermediary. “He supported Abacha’s criminal organisation and took part in money laundering activities,” Zappelli claimed.
“The intermediary has been charged with a fine of SFr400,000,” he added, without giving further details.
The move comes a month after the Nigerian finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, came to Switzerland in the hope of speeding up the release of the funds.
However, after her meeting with the outgoing Swiss justice minister, Ruth Metzler, it seemed unlikely that the money would be released shortly.
The Swiss justice ministry said that most of the funds were the subject of a money laundering case currently underway in canton Geneva and could not be released.
After the latest development in the Abacha case had been announced, Folco Galli, a spokesman for the justice ministry, said he had not been informed about the release of the money and was unable to comment on the decision.
“The funds in question are probably part of the Geneva money laundering case and must have been frozen by the canton. If this is the case the release does not require the approval of the cabinet,” Galli said.
swissinfo with agencies
Former Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha is believed to have siphoned off almost SFr4 billion of his country’s money.
Around SFr800 million was invested in Swiss banks.
Last month the Nigerian finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, visited Switzerland to speed up the release of the funds.
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