By Olusegun Emmanuel, Abuja.
Anti-corruption body, Transparency International (TI) has faulted the decision of the Federal Government to drop corruption charges against Mohammed Abacha, son of the late military Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha, saying such action will promote impunity.
In a statement by its Regional Director for sub-Saharan Africa, Chantal Uwimana, on Thursday, called for the immediate reinstatement of all corruption charges previously held against Abacha.
The Federal Government had charged Mohammed Abacha of complicity in allegations of treasury looting against his father by helping him to steal and launder about N446.3bn allegedly stolen from the government’s coffers between 1995 and 1998.
But Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Adoke, last Wednesday, asked Justice Mamman Kolo of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, to strike out the charges on the grounds of “fresh facts” that just emerged concerning the case.
He later explained that the decision was to enable out of court settlement that would allow Abacha relinquish part of the money.
But TI described the withdrawal as an act of encouraging impunity, calling for “an immediate reinstatement of all corruption charges previously held against Abacha.”
It explained that during the late Gen. Abacha’s lifetime, he was investigated for corruption and human rights violations.
It also recalled that the United States government had frozen US$458m in assets it claimed the late Abacha and his co-conspirators stole from Nigeria.
It said, “Allowing the theft of public funds to go unpunished sends the wrong message that those with powerful connections can act with impunity. The case should have been fully prosecuted and the government has not given adequate reasons for dropping the charges.
“In separate legal proceedings, Liechtenstein agreed on June 18 to return US$224m held by companies linked to the late Gen. Abacha. Corruption is widespread in Nigeria and despite claims by the government to make tackling corruption a priority too few people have been held to account for a series of high profile scandals.”
But in a statement signed by the Chief Press Secretary to the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Ambrose Momoh, the Federal Government explained that it was not true that the government was allowing the theft of public funds to go unpunished.
It described TI’s statement as not only an unfortunate rush to judgment without the benefit of facts, but not true.
Momoh said that the withdrawal of the criminal proceedings against Mohammed Abacha would facilitate the recovery of $380m from the Luxembourg proceedings and $550m from forfeiture proceedings instituted by the US Department of Justice.
This, he stated, was because the Abacha family had not only undertaken not to contest the proceedings, but to also cooperate with the Federal Government in the recovery proceedings.
“It is therefore clear from the foregoing that the suggestion that “the Abachas have been allowed to get away with little loss” is totally false and at variance with the facts,” it added.