Thursday, January 20, 2011

Wikileaks Set to Name the Country's Treasury Looters

Details of treasury looters and legitimate wealthy Nigerians with secret Swiss bank accounts are up for grabs and may be revealed in the latest round of documents to be published by whistle-blower website, WikiLeaks.

A Swiss banker has handed over what he said are secret Swiss banking records to the website dedicated to revealing state secrets as well as those of individuals.

Rudolf Elmer confirmed that he handed two discs to WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, in London, and that WikiLeaks could release the details in "a matter of weeks" if it can process them quickly enough.

Elmer said he would not reveal the names and is not able to say how many people are involved.

A source disclosed that those on the list include the late Head of State Sani Abacha and several politicians - and about 2,000 clients' records are included, but because of the way trusts and corporations are set up, the number of individuals involved cannot be determined.

Elmer describes himself as an activist, and banker.

"I think, as a banker, I do have the right to stand up if something is wrong," he said, explaining why he gave the documents to WikiLeaks.

Elmer is due to go on trial today in Switzerland for violating the country's banking secrecy regulations.

Unfazed, he insists that he wants "to let society know what I do know and how this system works because it is damaging our society in the way that money is moved" and hidden in offshore jurisdictions.

He began looking into the issue when he was a banker in the Cayman Islands, he added.

When he first looked into the problems of offshore banking it seemed to him like "a mouse tail," but as he investigated in the Cayman Islands and Switzerland, it became a "dragon's tail," and finally a many-headed dragon.

Elmer stated on his website that he wants to "challenge Swiss Bank Secrecy at the European Court of Human Rights and the Swiss courts."

He has worked at six offshore banking centres, he said, and has been engaged in a long-running battle with Swiss banks over secrecy.

Elmer had approached tax authorities and universities with his data, but no one was interested.

He was about to give up when he learned about WikiLeaks from a friend.

He said he is "grateful" to WikiLeaks for helping him "send the message which I wanted to send," but that he is not trying to use it for "protection" as he faces prosecution.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) disclosed in Abuja on May 20, 2009 that up to $450 million of the over $3 billion allegedly looted by Abacha could not be traced.

The disclosure was made by Tim Daniel, a legal expert from the United Kingdom brought in by UNODC to help the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) draft the Bill on Non-Conviction Based Forfeiture of Proceeds and Instrumentalities of Unlawful Activity.

Daniel announced that even though there was proof the $450 million was stacked away somewhere, it was yet to be traced.

According to him, while the $1.9 billion recovered from the Abacha family by the Federal Government was a major success story in assets recovery, there were still funds stolen from Nigeria yet to be recovered.

He said $300 million was still to be repatriated to Nigeria from Luxembourg where it was siphoned by Abacha, despite the letters of request by Abuja.

Daniel added that Abacha also stashed $400 million in Liechtenstein which Nigeria was yet to recover.

"The cases of Luxembourg and Liechtenstein are cases of monies frozen or lost by banks," he stressed.

Daniel noted that Abuja and its partners had intensified the search for the funds, with hope for positive results.

Breaking down the $1.9 billion recovered from Abacha, he said $750 million came from voluntary surrender by the family while $570 million was recovered from Switzerland.

"$380 million was recovered from Jersey and $150 million, which was the Ajaokuta Steel plant debt was recovered from the UK," he added.

He explained that asset recovery involves criminal and civil mechanisms, mutual legal assistance in criminal proceedings, international enforcement of confiscation orders, civil forfeiture, and private civil proceedings.

However, Abacha's son, Abba, on May 10 last year began a fresh appeal against a court order to return $350 million in illegally gained assets in Switzerland.

Abba was also convicted of being a member of a criminal organisation and given a suspended custodial sentence.

A Geneva Magistrate convicted Abba, 41, in November 2009 of participating in a criminal organisation, handed down a suspended prison term, and ordered he surrenders $350 million in illegally obtained assets.

Under the Swiss legal system, the appeal brings the case to a court.

"This is the first time this monumental embezzlement case is being heard in court," wrote the Le Temps, a Swiss newspaper, noting that Abacha was seeking to be acquitted.

The Swiss authorities pursued Abba for six years before extraditing him from Germany in 2005.

Nigeria sent Switzerland a request in 1999, the year after Abacha died, to help it recover some $2.2 billion the dictator is suspected of having siphoned from the treasury when he ruled from 1993 to 1998.

Switzerland began investigating the Abacha family in 1999 and has handed back about $700 million to Nigeria.

Daily Independent

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