The UK will return £ 4.2 million of Nigerian government funds stolen by a governor of the oil-rich Delta state who served a jail term in London for fraud, in the first such deal between the two countries. .
The money was stolen by James Ibori and his associates. He was imprisoned in 2012 for fraud worth nearly £ 50 million following a lengthy extradition procedure and his escape from arrest and prosecution in Nigeria. A failed appeal in 2018 paved the way for a seizure of his assets in the UK.
Billions of pounds of Nigerian government funds have been taken out of the country and laundered in countries like the UK, where Nigerian elites have built extensive portfolios and real estate assets.
The UK government has faced criticism for not doing enough to prevent foreign officials from acquiring property and assets in UK jurisdictions.
Nigeria’s Justice Minister signed an agreement with the UK High Commissioner in the Nigerian capital Abuja on Tuesday to return the recovered funds. Nigeria said they would be used in key infrastructure and construction works.
UK Africa Minister James Duddridge praised the move. “When money is stolen from public funds, it hits the poorest communities the hardest and means that the money cannot be spent where it is most needed,” he said.
Home Office Minister Susan Williams described the deal as “a significant moment in our fight against illicit finance wherever it may be.”
The agreement follows a memorandum of understanding signed between Nigeria and the United Kingdom, its former colonial power, in 2016, which aimed to return seized proceeds of bribery or corruption within a framework that commits Nigeria to a transparent use of funds returned.
Ibori, once a cashier at UK DIY stores, stole public funds to buy property and luxury cars and a private jet. He served four years of a 13-year prison sentence, which anti-corruption activists hailed as a rare victory in the fight against international corruption.
Corruption has long been endemic in Nigeria. A Transparency International corruption perception index ranks the country 149th out of 180 countries.
The Nigerian government under President Muhammadu Buhari has pursued the seizure of UK assets belonging to officials accused of corruption, but has failed to release them.
Matthew Page, as an associate member of the Chatham House foreign policy think tank, said the deal was important but the UK authorities needed to do more. “This is an important first step, but it should be followed by further investigations and seizures of the hundreds of millions of pounds in stolen public funds that Nigerian kleptocrats have hidden in the UK for decades,” he said.
“Returning stolen assets is always good news, but it is also a reminder that this government must do more to ensure that the world’s most corrupt people cannot live, study and spend their ill-gotten gains in the UK as freely. as they do now. “
Nigeria said the funds would support important key infrastructure works across the country, even though the money was laundered from Delta state, where much of the population does not benefit from the country’s vast oil wealth.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism