A High Court judge has ruled that US$6.5m dollars (€6.13m) worth of investment bonds frozen in an account held in Dublin-based HSBC Life Europe Ltd represent the proceeds of crime.
The bonds are linked to the family of the late Nigerian military dictator General Sani Abacha whose regime took an “eye-watering” amount of money from the Nigerian state, the Criminal Assets Burea (CAB) had alleged.
Mr Justice Raymond Fullam found the bonds, held at HSBC Life Europe Ltd, Grand Canal Square, Dublin 2, were for the benefit of the late general’s eldest surviving son, Mohammed Sani Abacha.
In proceedings against Mohammed Sani Abacha, CAB argued the bonds were obtained with money illegally taken out of Nigeria before being laundered to Ireland via institutions in Switzerland, London, and New York.
CAB, which last year obtained freezing orders over the bonds, also said they were in breach of Irish laws governing tax evasion.
The money used to acquire the bonds was illegally procured in two ways before being laundered to Ireland, CAB’s counsel Benedict Ó Floinn BL said.
The first method involved the regime directly taking funds from Nigeria’s Central Bank, he said. General Abacha had instructed bank officials to release monies, in the form of cash or traveller’s cheques, for emergency purposes which were then paid to bank accounts owned and controlled by Abacha and his sons. A sum of €2bn was moved from the central bank by the general between January 1994 and June 1998.
The second method involved foreign corporations operating in Nigeria who were informed by the general’s associates that contracts allowing them to operate in Nigeria would be considered invalid unless the regime was paid “a percentage” of the contract’s value in order to re-validate them, counsel said. Large amounts of money were generated by such actions, he told the court.
In his decision, Mr Justice Fullam said he accepted CAB’s evidence in relation to the bonds and he was satisfied to make an order under Section 3 of the Proceeds of Crime Act the monies were the proceeds of crime. He would also appoint a receiver over the monies.
The judge said he was taking into account findings in other jurisdictions, including the US, Switzerland and Nigeria, that the monies used to acquire the bonds were illegally obtained for private use of the late general, his family and associates.
General Sani Abacha ruled Nigeria from 1993 until his death in 1998. Since his death, the Nigerian government has been seeking the return of funds which it says were laundered through foreign banks. Some funds have been recovered and the US Justice Department earlier this year seized more than $480 million in assets.