Abacha and co-plunderers
The more than two decades international hunt for Nigeria’s billions stolen and stashed in various banks across the world by late dictator Sani Abacha and his family and associates yielded its latest result in early May: $23.5 million recovered by the UK’s National Crime Agency.
The latest recovery triggered fresh concerns about the plunder of Nigeria by the Abacha family and associates. Using court documents, leaked financial records, and our past reports, PREMIUM TIMES now reports how several persons worked in various roles to systematically plunder Nigeria under the Abacha kleptocracy between 1993 and 1998.
Transparency International estimates that Mr Abacha, in conspiracy with his cronies, stole up to $5 billion.
The U.S. court documents seen by PREMIUM TIMES said the conspirators systematically “embezzled, misappropriated, defrauded, and extorted hundreds of millions of dollars from the government of Nigeria and others, through three fraudulent schemes.”
One was “security vote fraud,” whereby Mr Abacha and his National Security Adviser, Ismaila Gwarzo, and others were said to have stolen more than two billion dollars by “fraudulently and falsely representing that the funds were to be used for national security purposes.” Between 1994 and 1998, they were said to have made over 60 false claims of “security emergencies” to withdraw huge funds from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), then headed by Paul Ogwuma.
“Rather than use the funds for national security purposes, the stolen money was transported out of Nigeria and deposited into accounts controlled by General Abacha’s associates, including Mohammed Abacha and Abubakar Bagudu,” the U.S. investigators said.
This was apart from other stolen funds through bribery and a dramatic conspiracy by Mr Abacha’s son, Mohammed, and Mr Bagudu to lend money stolen from Nigeria back to Nigeria “with zero risks and at an enormous profit” by using proceeds of the security vote fraud to purchase hundreds of millions of dollars of U.S. dollar-denominated Nigerian bonds, called Nigerian Par Bonds (NPBs).
Between 1998 and now, more than 3.6 billion dollars has been recovered through international efforts with different tranches linked to Mr Bagudu, now governor of Kebbi State, alone.
1. Gabriel Katri: A Swiss-Israeli banker, Mr Katri was a financial advisor to several heads of state in the Middle East and Africa. He was convicted in November 2009 for abetting what was described as a criminal enterprise by Abba Abacha. Mr Katri was later fined $10 million and given a non-custodial sentence by the Swiss investigating magistrate.
2. Gilbert Chagoury: Mr Chagoury is a Nigerian-born businessman of Lebanese descent. He is the founder of the Chagoury Group, whose multi-billion-dollar assets span construction, manufacturing, real estate, and hotels. He has accrued an infamous track record for decades.
Mr Chagoury was convicted in 2000 of money laundering and aiding a criminal organisation. In the 1990s, he set up accounts with SG Ruegg Bank in Geneva for the Abacha family enabling them to benefit from illegal transfers of over $120 million from the Central Bank of Nigeria and secured immunity from prosecution, court documents showed.
He later paid $600,000 in fines to the court in Geneva, Switzerland, and refunded $66 million to the Nigerian government.
3. Abubakar Bagudu: In the plunder machine that late kleptocrat Abacha set up, Mr Bagudu was the most prolific bagman, court documents show.
“Abubakar Atiku Bagudu was an associate of General Abacha and his sons who participated in the conspiracy to steal and launder hundreds of millions of dollars,” American investigators told the court. “Among other things, Bagudu played an instrumental role in setting up and executing the complicated financial transactions used to launder the proceeds of the conspiracy.”
Mr Bagudu was involved with all the offshore front companies and bank accounts – from the British Virgin Islands to Ireland, Switzerland, Germany, Singapore, England, Paris, Guernsey, and Jersey – used to steal and launder billions of dollars belonging to Nigeria under the Abacha regime. He acted as a director and in some cases as a signatory of accounts or prime beneficiary, court documents revealed.
He was behind the latest recovery in the UK alongside Mohammed Abacha.
Mr Bagudu, who was a former senator, has been the governor of Nigeria’s northwestern Kebbi State since 2015 and is an ally of President Muhammadu Buhari.

4. David Umaru: An affidavit filed on November 18, 2013, by the U.S. Department of Justice in a suit seeking the forfeiture of assets worth over $500 million stolen by Mr Abacha and hidden in various bank accounts, revealed how Mr Umaru allegedly acted as the official extortionist and money launderer of the Abachas.
He was a legal advisor and associate to the Abacha family. The court papers state that he facilitated the payment of illegal commissions to the family in return for securing the repayment of debts of some $470 million owed by the Nigerian government to Dumez Nigeria Plc, a French company, controlled by Andre Kamel.
In December 1996, Mr Umaru opened an account on behalf of Allied Network Ltd at the Union Bancaire Privee (UBP) in Geneva, Switzerland, which was used to receive the payment of the kickbacks from Dumez and another account at the same bank which was used to receive the payment from the Nigerian government.
In his native Niger State, Mr Umaru, who represented Niger East Senatorial District in the 7th assembly, is something of a folk hero.
5. Danilo Djuroiv: A representative for Ciba-Geigy Corporation in Nigeria and a business associate of Gilbert Chagoury, the Africa Confidential said Mr Djurovic facilitated illegal transfers from the Nigerian state to Abba and Mohammed Abacha.
He was found guilty of money laundering in December 2000 by order of a Geneva court.
6. Ahmadu Daura: Mr Daura was an associate of the Abacha Family. He operated the Sunshine Bureau de Change, a money exchange business in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital.
The court in Washington was told that Mr Daura participated in the conspiracy by moving criminal proceeds out of Nigeria to accounts he controlled in England and by transferring criminal proceeds into and out of the United States to accounts controlled by the Abacha family.
7. Mark Risser: Recommended to Mr Abacha as an experienced financial consultant, Mr Risser set up several accounts held by intermediary offshore companies with SG Ruegg Bank in SA in Geneva which facilitated the illegal transfer of some $50 million to Abba and Mohammed Abacha and their business associates, according to Africa Confidential.
8. Jean-Pierre Decker: Regional Operations Manager for Addax & Oryx Advisory Services in Nigeria. Mr Decker was said to have agreed to transfer illegal commissions on Nigerian oil contracts of over $76 million to accounts linked to Abba and Mohammed Abacha.
9. Richard Granier-Deffere: A founding director and third in command at Addax and Oryx Advisory Services, Mr Deferre facilitated the illegal transfer of funds from the CBN to accounts at Credit Agricole Indosuez linked to Mr Abacha and Mohammed Abacha, according to Africa confidential, citing Swiss court papers.

10. Raj Arjandas Bhojwani: The Royal Court of Jersey seized £26.5 million from Mr Bhojwani, an Indian, in 2011, after having determined he was guilty of money laundering offences. The case arose out of Jersey’s investigation into the activities of Mr Abacha.
Mr Bhojwani was said to have laundered the money through a Jersey branch of the Bank of India. According to Jersey court documents, he made a fortune from selling vehicles to the Nigerian government under two separate contracts in 1996 and 1997 through a Panamanian company, named Tata Overseas Sales and Services, (TOSS), which was, in reality, a front for him personally. The true purchase prices of the vehicles were inflated by between 400 and 500 per cent at the behest of Mr Abacha and Mohammed Buba Marwa, the court was told.
He had earlier been sentenced to six years imprisonment for the money laundering offences.
11. Anthony Ani: Mr Ani held the position of Nigeria’s Minister of Finance under General Abacha. Court documents showed that he authorized the disbursement of Nigerian government funds in furtherance of the Security Votes Fraud and the Debt Buy-Back Fraud.
In April 1997, Mr Ani ordered the CBN to transfer $228 million —in two tranches — to accounts held in the name of Eagle Alliance and Morgan Procurement, two of the stealing vehicles controlled by Mr Bagudu.
Specifically: “On or about April 15, 1997, the CBN transferred $141,253,333 into and out of a correspondent bank account at Citibank (New York) to Goldman Sachs in Zurich, Switzerland, for credit to accounts held in the names of Eagle Alliance and Morgan Procurement.”
Also, “On or about April 22, 1997, the CBN wire $141,253,333 into and out of a correspondent bank account at Citibank (New York) to Goldman Sachs in Zurich, Switzerland, for credit to the Mecosta account, but, instead, these funds were deposited into an account of Eagle Alliance,” the U.S. investigators said.
12. Ismaila Gwarzo: Mr Gwarzo held the position of National Security Advisor (NSA) during the regime of Mr Abacha. He participated in the conspiracy to steal and launder hundreds of millions of dollars.
“Among other things, Gwarzo prepared and executed the false paperwork that caused the CBN to release hundreds of millions of dollars worth of U.S., U.K., and Nigerian currency as part of the Security Votes Fraud,” investigators said.
For instance, in a letter addressed to Mr Abacha on June 2, 1994, Mr Gwarzo falsely wrote: “In view of the on-going negative campaign against this country, a small international operation has been mounted to cover it…please approve as a matter of urgency, the sum of Five Million Dollars…for this operation.”
In another letter, the U.S. court was told that on August 20, 1996, Mr Gwarzo falsely stated: “In light of the current political situation in the country, coupled with the increase in security operations….there is need for a lot of funds to handle the challenges outlined above such that I require Three hundred and fifty million Naira [N350,000,000.00] plus Thirty million dollars [$30,000,000] and Fifteen million Pounds [£15,000,000.00] …Please consider the desperate need and approve.”
Over 60 false security votes and letters were addressed to and endorsed by Mr Abacha, each of which resulted in the withdrawal of Nigeria’s public funds from the CBN, according to court documents.
13. Dan Etete: The subject of an international arrest warrant issued by France for money laundering, Mr Etete was said to have presided over negotiations for the $6 billion gas export plant at Bonny Island which was under investigation by the U.S., French, British and Nigerian authorities.

Dan Etete [Photo Credit: Nairametrics]

He was the former Nigerian Minister of Petroleum under the regime of Mr Abacha and was found guilty of money laundering by a French court in 2007.
14. Buba Marwa: Mr Marwa, then Nigeria’s Defence Advisor to the United Nations, was involved in negotiating the two contracts Mr Bhojwani inflated in 1996 and 1997. According to court documents, Mr Bhojwani sold vehicles to Nigeria at prices inflated by some 400 and 500 per cent. The total sum was approximately $184 million, but in truth, the vehicles were worth less than $40 million.
The proceeds were paid to accounts controlled by Mr Bhojwani in Jersey, out of which approximately $100 million was paid to accounts in Switzerland, connected with Mr Abacha and Mr Marwa, the court was told.
A former military administrator of Lagos State, Mr Marwa is the current chairman of the National Drug Law and Enforcement Agency (NDLEA).
15. Paul Ogwuma: Former CBN chief, Mr Ogwuma was instructed by Mr Abacha and Mr Gwarzo to make several illegal transfers of funds from the CBN to accounts they controlled.
For example, in a letter, dated November 30, 1994, Mr Gwarzo falsely stated: “[100 million dollars are requested] to combat an economy that was deflected and distorted through the black market.”
Mr Abacha promptly endorsed the security votes letter with his signature, thereby approving the disbursement of the requested funds. The endorsed letter was then sent to the CBN. The CBN then disbursed the funds as directed.
But Mr Ogwuma, the CBN chief, knew that using these security votes letters to take money from the CBN violated what the CBN had described as Nigeria’s “accepted government procedures.” The proper government procedures required the Minister of Finance and the Accountant-General to each approve disbursements by Nigeria’s budget.
The security vote withdrawals were not properly approved by both the Minister of Finance and the Accountant-General and were also not included in Nigeria’s budget for the relevant fiscal years.

 
16. Mohammed Abacha: The eldest surviving son of Mr Abacha, he played an instrumental role in the conspiracy to steal hundreds of millions of dollars from Nigeria and launder the criminal proceeds throughout the world, according to various court documents.
Investigators said Mohammed Abacha received and helped to launder more than $700 million in cash stolen directly from Nigeria’s public coffers. He is also a signatory and/or a corporate representative designated on many of the Abacha’s assets.
After Mr Abacha’s death, the kleptocrat’s son was charged with the murder of Kudirat Abiola, the wife of Moshood Abiola, the winner of the annulled 1993 Presidential election. Mohammed Abacha was acquitted in 2002 after he agreed that the Abacha family would return stolen funds to Nigeria.
17. Abba Abacha: Second eldest son of Mr Abacha, he was convicted by a Swiss court on November 19, 2009, for membership in a criminal organisation and given a suspended sentence of two years imprisonment. After seizing $350 million of Abba Abacha’s assets, Switzerland ordered their return to Nigeria.
18. Maryam Abacha: Mrs Abacha, the wife of the kleptocrat and mother of Mohammed and Abba, was the head of the National Commission of Women and Director of Nigeria’s vaccination campaign through which she and Mr Bagudu allegedly fraudulently appropriated $63 million from a procurement contract with Pasteur Merieux, according to court papers.
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