THE family of the late Head of State, General Sani Abacha, lost, on Friday, its bid to regain access to the many accounts held by its members in banks in the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Jersey, Liechenstein and Luxembourg blocked upon a directive by the Nigerian government in 1999.
A five-man panel of the Supreme Court held, in a judgment on Friday, that it was too late for the Abacha family to query the decision taken by the Federal Government of Nigeria in 1999, via a letter authored by the then Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Kanu Agabi (SAN).
Justice Chima Nweze, who authored the panel’s lead judgment. in the appeal marked: SC/68/2010, held among others, that in view of the evidence presented by parties, he was left with no other options than to uphold the earlier concurrent decisions of the two lower courts (the Federal High Court, Kano and the Court of Appeal, Kaduna division), to the effect that the action was statute barred.
Justice Nweze was absent at the court’s proceedings on Friday, but had his lead judgment read by Justice Amina Augie, who quoted him as saying: “In all forms, with the eloquent submission of the respondents’ counsel, and submissions anchored on the admitted evidence, I have no hesitation in affirming the concurrent decisions of the lower courts.
“Accordingly, I hereby enter an order dismissing this appeal. I further affirm the concurrent findings and decisions of the lower courts. Appeal dismissed.”
Lawyer to the appellant, Reuben Atabo had in his brief of argument contended that the Federal Government acted without any legal backing. He also faulted the decisions of the two lower courts and argued that the FG, in asking foreign agents to freeze the accounts traced to the Abachas, acted on a law that was no longer in existence.
He contended that the Banking (Freezing of Accounts) Act of 1st December 1983, which the FG relied on in September 1999 to demand the freezing of the accounts, was repealed on May 29, 1999.
“In other words, between September 1999 and October 2003 when the various acts leading to the freezing of the appellant’s accounts were carried out by the respondents, the Banking (Freezing of Accounts) Act of 1st December 1983 upon which the said acts were carried out or founded, was non-existent, same having been repealed on 29ths May, 1999,” Atabo said.
According to court documents, the then President, Olusegun Obasanjo, in December 1999, authorized the then AGF, Agabi, to request the Swiss authorities to freeze all bank accounts held in its jurisdiction by the late Head of State, General Abacha, his children, servants, agents and any other individuals or companies liked to them between 1993 and 1998.
The Nigeria government was also said to have requested the Swiss authorities to seize and detain all banking and other documents relating to the affected accounts, charge and prosecute all holders of such accounts, in order to recover and pay over to the Federal Government of Nigeria all monies falsely and fraudulently taken from the government and people of Nigeria.
Also, the FG was said to have engaged a foreign financial investigator, Enrico Monfrini of Hauchomann & Bottage in Geneva, Switzerland, to assist in recovering “all looted monies by General Abacha and his family members and other public servants and third parties who have used their position or participated as accomplices to misappropriate public funds.”
Following these steps by the Federal Government, the accounts of the Abachas found in Switzerland, United Kingdom, Jersey, Liechenstein and Luxembourg were frozen, an action members of the late Head of State challenged by filing a suit, marked: FHC/KN/CS/6/2004, on January 28, 2004 before the Federal High Court, Kano.
The suit filed on behalf of the Abachas by Alhaji Abba Mohammed Sani, had the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Attorney General of the Federation as respondents.
After hearing parties, the court rendered its judgment in 2006, in which it upheld the argument by the respondents to the effect that the case was not only statute barred, the plaintiff could not relitigate the same case that had been decided by the court’s Abuja division in suit: FHC/ABJ/CS/347/2001brought by Sulgrave Holdings Inc & 19 others against the FRN & three others.
Alhaji Sani appealed the decision of the Federal High Court, Kano at the Court of Appeal, Kaduna. But in its judgment on December 15, 2009, the appellate court upheld the decision of the trail court and dismissed the appeal, a decision Alhaji Sani again appealed to the Supreme Court, which the apex court dismissed on Friday.
Other members of the Supreme Court’s five-man panel that heard the appeal, include Justices Olukayode Ariwoola, Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, Augie and Paul Galumje, all agreed with the lead judgment as written by Justice Nweze.