sani abachaWashington has won a court case authorising the US government to seize $480m worth of cash owned by former Nigerian dictator General Sani Abacha who died in 1998.

General Abacha has siphoned the money abroad and deposited it in banks across France, Ireland, the UK and the Channel Islands. In March this year, the US won the right to freeze the assets but yesterday, the Justice Department won a federal high court case in Washington, in which it had sought the right to seize the cash.

According to a Justice Department official, the forfeiture of the money sets a record for kleptocracy actions. Washington will now redistribute the money to Nigerian projects as it sees fit.

Leslie Caldwell, the US assistant attorney general, said: “Rather than serve his county, General Abacha used his public office in Nigeria to loot millions of dollars, engaging in brazen acts of kleptocracy. With this judgment, we have forfeited $480m in corruption proceeds that can be used for the benefit of the Nigerian people.”

She added that the ultimate disposition of the funds will follow the execution of the judgment in each of these jurisdictions. General Abacha, who became Nigeria’s head of state via military coup on November 17, 1993, held power until his death on June 8, 1998 and is estimated to have stolen a total of $5bn.

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