The Nigerian government's attempt to have Swiss banks return millions stashed abroad by General Sani Abacha has suffered a blow. Switzerland's federal court says it wants to hear an appeal by the Abacha family following the collapse of an out-of-court settlement between President Olusegun Obasanjo's government and the family. All transfers of information and funds will consequently cease until the court has ruled on the case.
Under the agreement, Nigeria was expected to receive $1 billion from banks in Switzerland and other countries, while the Abacha family would have kept $1 00m said to have been banked before Abacha came to power.
But Pascal Gossin, head of international legal co-operation at the Swiss justice ministry, said attorneys for the Nigerian authorities had informed the ministry that the terms of the settlement had not been fulfilled, "because Abacha's son, Mohammed, had failed to sign the necessary documents".
Switzerland had been poised to hand over $535m in blocked funds to the Nigerian government. The money in question was frozen in 1999 after Nigeria had asked Switzerland to help investigate the financial network allegedly set up by Abacha, who ruled Nigeria from 1993 until his death of an apparent heart attack in 1998.
The Abacha case proved a particular embarrassment for Switzerland because of the amount of money involved and the fact that much of it found its way into banks after the introduction of a 1998 law meant to clamp down on money laundering. The same applies to the case of the former Congolese president, Mobutu Sese Seko, who was said to have stashed between $4 billion and $10 billion in his Swiss accounts. Now the Congolese government has to fight and win a legal battle against an army of lawyers hired by both the Swiss banks and Mobutu's family to get the money returned.
When the late President Laurent Kabila came to power in 1997, he asked the Swiss authorities to freeze Mobutu's accounts and other ill-gotten Mobutu properties in the country. The reply was that officially there remained only $8m of Mobutu's...