You remember the summer of ’98. The European Central Bank was founded in Brussels, Pete Sampras won the men’s singles title at Wimbledon, “Sex and the City” premiered on the telly – and Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha died at the age of 54. In case you’re like me and keep losing decades when you work out how old you are, this was twenty-one years ago. Abacha was not, for the AML community, a nice chap. It is estimated that during his ascent up the greasy pole of Nigerian power (he served as Chief of Army Staff from 1985 then Chief of Defence Staff before becoming President in November 1993) he and his family accumulated US$5 billion of public funds, and in their 2004 “Global Corruption Report” Transparency International recognised him as the fourth most corrupt political leader in history. In other words, we’ve known for a long time that any money squirrelled away around the world by Abacha or his rellies is dodgy and should be examined closely and almost certainly should be returned to the people of Nigeria. But as we also know, the wheels of asset forfeiture grind exceeding slow – and most especially those of civil asset forfeiture. It’s one of the enduring bugbears of we AML-ers: how can we convince people that AML initiatives work when it takes, like, forever to see the fruits of our labour? And so we must rejoice whenever a thieving politician’s assets are found, seized and returned to their rightful owners – albeit decades later.
It’s a very complex exercise, of course, tracking down the Abacha billions, but he laundered some of his corrupt proceeds – $268 million – by moving it through the US and then popping it into accounts held in Jersey by a British Virgin Islands company called Doraville Properties Corporation. As usual with such cases (and this explains in part the slowness of the system) there have been all sorts of legal debates. In 2014 the US authorities asked for the money in Doraville’s accounts to be forfeit and a restraining order was granted in Jersey. Doraville asked for the order to be discharged but their application was dismissed, as were their two appeals against the imposition of the order in the first place. And on 4 June 2019 the Jersey authorities finally confirmed that – with all possible legal challenges exhausted by Doraville – the money had been moved from the bank accounts into the Civil Asset Recovery Fund under the control of the States of Jersey. In other words, it is no longer Doraville’s money. The next step is for Jersey, the US and Nigeria to work out an asset-sharing agreement to decide who gets what proportion of the money – and the word on the street (that’s Broad Street in St Helier) is that there is more money sitting in Doraville accounts that will go the same way. So patience, grasshopper. Perhaps we can see it as proof that ill-gotten gains are never washed clean but remain dirty forever, and will be pursued long after the crime has been committed and the criminal has died.