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US court to rule on $150 mln Abacha loot traced to Kebbi Gov Bagudu

The U.S. will resume legal proceedings to confiscate more than $150 million it says was laundered by a leading member of Nigeria’s ruling party after attempts to reach an out-of-court settlement failed.

The Justice Department has been trying to seize four investment portfolios held in trust for Abubakar Bagudu and his family since 2013.

The U.S. alleges Bagudu, 60, was part of a network controlled by former dictator Sani Abacha that misappropriated billions of dollars from state coffers in the 1990s. Bagudu is governor of Nigeria’s northern state of Kebbi and heads an influential body of governors representing the ruling All Progressives Congress.

His brother Ibrahim, who is entitled to an annuity from the assets, is challenging the forfeiture in a federal court in Washington.

While the parties obtained a stay from the judge in early 2020 to discuss “a potential negotiated resolution,” the U.S. now believes the talks have reached an “impasse” and the case is set to restart, the two sides said in a joint report on March 2. Still, Ibrahim Bagudu is “amenable to continuing settlement discussions while litigation resumes,” as he is of the view that an out-of-court resolution remains possible, according to the filings.

READ ALSO: Nigeria pension fund hits N13.6 trln in Jan 2022

The U.S. and Ibrahim have been trying to negotiate a broader settlement that includes his brother as well as the Nigerian and U.K. governments, court filings show. A U.K. court froze the investment portfolios in 2014 following a request from the U.S.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s government has said it is unable to assist the U.S. because it is bound by a settlement Abubakar Bagudu reached with a previous administration in 2003. This arrangement allowed Bagudu to return $163 million to the Nigerian authorities, which in exchange dropped all outstanding civil and criminal claims against him, according to court filings.

The government and Bagudu concluded a new agreement in 2018 that would see ownership of the investment portfolios — worth 141 million euros ($154 million) in late 2019 — transferred to the Nigerian state, which would then pay 98.5 million euros to Bagudu and his affiliates, according to U.S. court documents.

Buhari’s administration has applied to the U.K. court to unfreeze the assets. The U.S. Justice Department said in February 2020 it had asked the Nigerian government to withdraw litigation it had commenced in the U.K. that was hindering its efforts to forfeit laundered funds held in Bagudu’s name.

The Justice Department declined to comment. A spokesman for Nigerian Attorney General Abubakar Malami and lawyers for the Bagudu brothers didn’t respond to requests for comment.

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