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Vol 41 No 21

Published 27th October 2000


High street havens

The search for Abacha's stolen money has led to several major Western banks and is at last forcing their governments to act

Investigators pursuing some US$3 billion of funds stolen by the late General Sani Abacha's regime between 1993-98 have established that the cash was deposited in more than 30 major banks in Britain, Germany, Switzerland and the United States without any intervention from those countries' financial regulators. The failure of the regulators to act even after specific banks and corporate accounts were named in legal proceedings in Britain and congressional hearings in the USA points to a lack of will by Western governments to crack down on corrupt transfers (AC Vol 40 No 23). Quarrels between different departments - with trade and finance officials trying to block any public disclosure of the illicit flows - delayed government action. None of the banks named so far as accepting deposits from Abacha's family and associates - Australia and New Zealand Banking Group, Bankers Trust, Barclays, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, HSBC, Merrill Lynch, National Westminster Bank and Paribas - have been formally investigated nor had any disciplinary action taken against them. It was not until this week, more than two years after Abacha's death, that Britain's Financial Services Authority announced an investigation into how its money laundering controls had failed to block the flow of stolen Nigerian state funds through the City of London. This is several months after a formal request for assistance was made by Nigerian government investigators. Similar requests have been made to the German, US and Swiss authorities but so far only the Swiss have responded by setting up their own investigation. The bulk of the $3 bn. is reckoned to be in Switzerland, some of which has passed through the accounts of the Swiss affiliates of multinational companies.

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