Thursday, January 28, 2021

Sani Abacha - the hunt for the billions stolen by Nigeria's ex-leader


 When Nigeria's then-head of state Sani Abacha stole billions of dollars and died before spending his loot, it prompted an international treasure hunt spread over decades. The man hired to get the money back tells the BBC's Clare Spencer how the search took over his life.

BBC NEWS

In September 1999, Swiss lawyer Enrico Monfrini answered a phone call that would change his next 20 years.

"He called me in the middle of the night, he asked me if I could come to his hotel, he had something of importance. I said: 'It's a bit late but OK.'"

The voice on the end of the line was that of a high-ranking member of the Nigerian government.

Mr Monfrini says the official was sent to Geneva by the Nigerian president at the time, Olusegun Obasanjo, to recruit him to get hold of the money stolen by Abacha, who ruled from 1993 until his death in 1998.

He said that a preliminary investigation published by the police in November 1998 found that more than $1.5bn (£1.1bn) was stolen by Abacha and his associates.

One of the methods used for accumulating such a colossal sum was particularly brazen.

Abacha would tell an adviser to make a request to him for money for a vague security issue.

He then signed off the request which the adviser would then take to the central bank, which would hand out the money, often in cash.

The adviser would then take most of that money to Abacha's house.

Some was even taken in dollar notes "by the truckload", Mr Monfrini wrote.

This was just one way Abacha and his associates stole huge amounts of money. Other methods ranged from awarding state contracts to friends at highly inflated prices and then pocketing the difference and demanding foreign companies pay huge kickbacks to operate in the country.

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