Switzerland provides mutual legal assistance in the Abacha case - To date, USD 645 million have been frozen in Switzerland

Bern, 21.01.2000 - Switzerland is supporting the criminal investigations of the Nigerian authorities into the embezzlement of government funds during the regime of the former head-of-state, Sani Abacha. The Federal Office for Police (FOP) has examined the formal request for mutual legal assistance from Nigeria and decided that such assistance is admissible in this case. Furthermore, the FOP has ordered the additionnal freeze of bank accounts and the production of bank documents.

The Nigerian request for mutual legal assistance involves the former head-of-state, Sani Abacha, and 14 other persons (including various family members and representatives of his regime). The Nigerian authorities suspect that they "systematically plundered" the Nigerian central bank for some years. They are accused of having committed a series of property crimes (including embezzlement, fraud, forgery and money laundering). The Nigerian authorities are asking that assets held in Switzerland be frozen, that bank documents be handed over and that the assets be returned.

The FOP itself is deciding on the execution of mutual legal assistance. The revised mutual legal assistance act authorizes the FOP to handle itself cases which are complex or particularly important. In the Abacha case, the FOP is working closely together with the Geneva investigating magistrate's office, which has already initiated criminal proceedings for money laundering and which has frozen some USD 645 million to date. This amount may increase, as Article 9 of the Federal Act on the Prevention of Money Laundering requires the banks and other financial intermediaries to report any cases where they have grounds to believe that assets deposited with them originate from criminal sources, are held by a criminal organization or could be connected with money laundering. In view of the sums involved, which Nigeria claims have been embezzled, the banks will probably investigate not only members of the Abacha family, but also third parties not directly mentioned in the Nigerian request for mutual legal assistance.

On 13 October 1999, the FOP extended the provisional freeze of accounts until the end of the mutual legal assistance proceedings. The USD 80 m in assets frozen as a result of these provisional measures are part of the assets also frozen in connection with the Swiss proceedings. Furthermore, the FOP ordered that additional accounts be frozen; this concerns three banks in Geneva and four in Zurich. The FOP further asked the Geneva investigating magistrate to obtain the relevant bank documents and to question officers of these banks as witnesses. The investigating magistrate was also requested to hand over to the FOP information from his criminal proceedings which could be useful in the further mutual legal assistance proceedings.

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