September 27, 2005—The Governments of Nigeria and Switzerland, working together with assistance from the World Bank, have taken a significant step toward the return of funds which have been looted from Africa.
The Swiss Government is returning to Nigeria $458 million stolen by the late military dictator General Abacha and deposited in Swiss banks. The Swiss have already transferred $290 million of the money.
“The agreement that has been reached between Nigeria and Switzerland is a landmark agreement,” said World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz at a press conference this morning with Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Swiss Secretary of State in the Ministry of Economic Affairs Jean-Daniel Gerber.
“It sends a signal around the world that there is no safe harbor for stolen funds," he said.
Wolfowitz said it was one of the first cases of stolen funds being repatriated and could set an important precedent. “Corruption is not just the problem of developing countries. The developed countries have a responsibility, too, and part of that responsibility is to make it as hard as possible for corrupt governments to hide the money that they steal and to help in its return.”
The Nigerian government has been very committed to fighting corruption and has made it clear that its focus on transparency, good governance and fighting corruption was real, Okonjo-Iweala said. “We are grateful that the Swiss Government has set an example for others.”
For its part, the Swiss Government had a fundamental interest in ensuring that it did not receive illicitly acquired assets, Gerber said, and the country’s banking secrecy laws did not apply to assets of criminal origin.
“Repatriating illegally acquired funds is an important tool in the fight against corruption…It also is a significant potential source for development financing,” he said.
According to Okonjo-Iweala, the returned funds would be put directly into poverty-reduction programs.
“We want to assure the public that money were are getting back is put to use in poverty reduction and work creation programs, to support health, education, agriculture, roads, water, everything that has to do with improving the lives of the Nigerian people,” she said.
The World Bank is helping the Nigerian Government through a Public Expenditure Management and Financial Accountability Review (PEMFAR) to ensure additional budget resources, including these and other repatriated funds, are channeled to support these key sectors. The Swiss Government is providing support for the review with a grant.