WASHINGTON, September 27, 2005 — Following a decision by the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland, the Governments of Nigeria and Switzerland have agreed on a process to return to Nigeria US$458 million stolen by the late military dictator General Abacha. The Swiss Government has already transferred US$290 million of this amount. The return of these funds is one of the first cases of looted funds actually being repatriated, and can serve as an important international precedent.
The Nigerian Government and the World Bank agreed to proceed with a Public Expenditure Management and Financial Accountability Review (PEMFAR). This review, jointly conducted by Nigeria and the World Bank, aims to support the Government's efforts at reforming and strengthening its expenditure system and ensure that it reflects its poverty reduction program. The PEMFAR will, among other things, help the Nigerian Government ensure that additional resources, including these and other repatriated funds, are channeled to support key sectors, such as education, health, HIV/AIDS and basic infrastructure. To this end, the Swiss Government is providing support for carrying out the review through a grant accorded to the World Bank to help finance the study, as specified in a recently signed agreement.
Given the importance of the PEMFAR and the Nigerian Government's commitment to transparency, every effort will be made to ensure participation of civil society organizations in this work.
"The return of this money is the result of years of hard work by the Nigerian Government. We appreciate the willingness of the Swiss to act on this issue," said the Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. "It is just a first step. We are committed to ensuring that all the funds stolen from Nigeria are returned and all potentially corrupt people are aware there are no more safe havens. I feel that this process has taken too much time and appeal to the international community to put in place mechanisms that would facilitate the fight against international corruption."
"The message is that there is no safe haven for looted funds or corrupt activities," said World Bank President Paul D. Wolfowitz. "We welcome the opportunity to play a supportive role as facilitator and adviser in a process that restores these assets to the Nigerian people and helps channel more resources to poverty reduction programs."
"Repatriating illegally acquired funds, such as the Abacha Funds in the case of Nigeria, is an important tool in the fight against corruption and at the same time a significant potential source for development financing," said the Swiss Secretary of State, Ministry of Economic Affairs, Jean-Daniel Gerber. "By this latest Swiss initiative, my country actively supports foreign governments in their endeavor to combat crime and improve good governance. The involvement of the World Bank as a third party with excellent technical expertise in public finance management can be very helpful, as shown in this case, as it creates confidence among key stakeholders about effective use of the repatriated funds. Switzerland is committed not to provide a refuge for funds of criminal origin and is taking decisive action against the abuse of its financial sector. It has adopted effective legislation to this end."
Wolfowitz commended the Government of Nigeria for its strong commitment to fight corruption and improve accountability and transparency in the use of public resources, and the Swiss Government for making a significant contribution to the fight against the misappropriation of public funds.