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Court freezes €5m in bonds of family of dead Nigerian dictator

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The Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) has secured orders freezing Irish-held investment bonds worth US$6.5m (€5.22m) allegedly misappropriated by the family of the late Nigerian military dictator General Sani Abacha.

Earlier this month the CAB obtained a temporary freezing order, under the Proceeds of Crime Act, from the High Court freezing investment bonds.

The bonds were obtained with money illegally taken out of Nigeria, before it was laundered to Ireland, CAB says, via institutions in Switzerland, London, and New York.

CAB also claims the bonds, which it says are in breach of Irish tax evasion laws, are linked to the late general's eldest surviving son, Mohammed Sani Abacha. The freezing order was obtained on an ex-parte basis (only the CAB side represented).

Yesterday, Benedict Ó Floinn BL, for CAB, told Mr Justice Raymond Fullam the bonds are linked to the late general's regime who took "an eye watering amount of money"  from the Nigerian state.

Counsel said CAB believe the money to acquire the bonds was illegally procured in two ways, before being laundered to Ireland.

The first method involved the regime directly taking funds from Nigeria's Central Bank. The second involved foreign corporations operating in Nigeria.

Counsel said the companies were informed by the general's associates that contracts allowing them operate in Nigeria would be considered invalid unless the regime was "paid a percentage of the contract's value" in order to re-validate them.

After the CAB obtained the freezing orders, efforts to serve Mohammed Sani Abacha, who has an address in Nigeria, with notice of the proceedings before the Irish High Court had been "thwarted".

This, counsel said, is due to problems with internal conflict in Nigeria and Ebola in the West Africa region. 

Counsel asked that the matter be adjourned until an update on serving Mr Mohammed Abacha can be provided to the court.

The judge agreed to put the case back, with the freezing orders in place, to a date later this month.

General Sani Abacha ruled Nigeria from 1993 until his death in 1998.

During his reign the late dictator, his family and their associates are believed to have looted €6.4billion from Nigeria's state coffers.  The late general's family have rejected these accusations.

Since the general's death, the Nigerian government have been involved in a world wide trawl seeking the return of misappropriated funds which it says were laundered through foreign banks. Some of the funds have been recovered.

Earlier this year, the US Justice Department seized more than $480 million in assets hidden around the world by the former dictator.

General Abacha's regime was known for numerous human rights abuses, including the 1995 execution of writers and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, who had opposed the exploitation of Nigeria's natural resources by Royal Dutch Shell.

His supporters however credit him with the restoration of democratically elected institutions, the re-establishment of Nigeria as an African power as well as overseeing  economic growth in the country.

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