You can’t recover stolen funds without a fight, foreign expert warns FG

#TrackNigeria –The Government and people of Nigeria will not be able to effectively recover stolen public funds stashed in foreign countries without a fight, an expert on Asset Recovery, Mr Nicholas Hildyard said in Abuja.

Hildyard who is co-Director, The Corner House, a global anti-corruption concern, pointed out the hypocrisy of Western countries accusing them of double standards.

He spoke at a conference on Asset Recovery organised by Human and Environment Development Agenda, (HEDA) in Abuja. His paper was titled: All Hat and No Cattle The scandal of the West’s anti-money-laundering regulations.”

He said stolen funds are usually not recovered intact but involves associated high cost leading to diminishing returns to the benefit of most Western countries who are the recipient of such sleaze funds.

He cited the case of funds stolen by former dictator, Gen. Sani Abacha, regretting that it has taken Nigeria over twenty years – and millions in legal fees – for just a small proportion of $5 billion or more looted by Sani Abacha to be returned.  He said even where funds have been frozen and recovered, some Western nations have insisted on taking “their” share.”

He said “many of you, I am sure, will be familiar with the caught-on-camera remark by David Cameron, the former UK prime minister, that Nigeria is “fantastically corrupt”.

Hildyard praised President Mohammadu Buhari’s response to Cameron when he said rather than seeking an apology for a remark that he acknowledged to be true, he would prefer to have “the billions stolen from Nigeria returned”.

He said Buhari’s response was “a superbly diplomatic riposte. In just one phrase, he brushed aside the lazily racist view that corruption is an African problem and refocussed attention on the role that the West has always played, and continues to play, in fomenting, facilitating and profiting from corruption.”

Citing geo-political realities, Hildyard said the harsh reality is that Nigeria can request the US and UK all it likes for the hundreds of billions of looted dollars held in the West to be returned “but nothing, nada, zilch will come home without a fight.”

He asked rhetorically, “Will Nigeria get the full $267 million recovered from a bank account in Jersey? Not a bit of it. The monies will be shared with Jersey (which hid the money) and the US (which had a role in the recovery).[i]

And what is returned comes with conditions on how it can be spent.

Of course, it would be a very different matter if the boot had been on the other foot. He said if an American politician looted billions of dollars from the US treasury and salted away the proceeds in banks in Nigeria, it is inconceivable that the US would have waited for over 20 years for just a small proportion of that looted money to be returned.

Hildyard said “The US would have mobilised every means at its disposal to force the speedy, unilateral, voluntary return of the funds. Sanctions would have been imposed. Visa bans executed. Pariah state status promulgated. You would probably even have had the Sixth fleet weighing anchor off Lagos. And do you think for a moment that the US would have accepted Nigeria imposing conditions on the return of the funds? Of course not. On the contrary, conditions would instead have been imposed by the US on Nigeria’s banking system.”

He condemned the geopolitics and the gross imbalances of bargaining power that imperialism continues to create saying they are just one of the obstacles that Nigeria faces in reclaiming what is rightfully hers.

“At a more tangible level, the regulations in western countries that are supposed to prevent money laundering and enable the recovery of funds are simply not fit for purpose. The West talks big: but (to use a Texan phrase) its anti-money laundering framework is “all hat and no cattle”- self serving.”

He said though an estimated £36 billion to £90 billion in dirty money is said to be laundered through London every year, but the number of banks convicted of money laundering in the last decade can be counted on one hand.

According to him “no senior bank executive has been jailed or prosecuted, unlike in some other jurisdiction, such as Denmark, the fines imposed are a fraction of those imposed in the US – the fine imposed on Coutts was 600 times less than the penalty that was levied by the United States on BNP Paribas. The UK government and the Financial Services Authority—now the FCA—successfully lobbied the US not to prosecute HSBC for money laundering.

He said while the US has a better record for prosecutions, it also has a record of ensuring that the penalties amount to little more than a slap on the wrist.

“Neither HSBC nor BNP Paribas was barred from the American financial system following their convictions for money laundering. On the contrary, the prosecutors reportedly worked hard to limit the damage from the BNP Paribas guilty plea so that it could continue to function as a global bank. Despite promises to tighten up the system, little has been done.

Citing another example, he said even after Russia’s chemical weapons attack on Salisbury, when politicians were fighting to get into the TV studios to promise sanctions against corrupt Russian oligarchs using London to launder their loot, nothing substantive has been done to cleanse London of dirty money. “Too many powerful people are making too much money to bring the system under control: and the Treasury is too scared of losing the taxes that flow from London’s pre-eminent position as financial centre to wield the whip. It is not a question of lack of political will – the usual explanation for inaction. The truth is that there is immense political will – but that it is aligned behind those who benefit from doing nothing rather than those who would act decisively to root out