With the signing of a pact by the Federal Government and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) yesterday, the coast is clear for the Federal Government to seize assets of 22 politically exposed persons and businessmen in Dubai.
The funds traced to them, which are believed to have been looted, are to be frozen and repatriated to Nigeria.
All the 22 former political leaders and businessmen are being investigated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The ratification of the six agreements between the two countries delayed the seizure of the assets, The Nation learnt yesterday.
Under investigation are seven former governors, seven ex-ministers, four businessmen, a former chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), a former Comptroller-General of the Nigerian Customs Service, a former presidential assistant indicted in the $2.1billion arms deals and a former First Lady who allegedly used fronts to acquire some choice properties.
Two of the assets have been traced to a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, who was implicated by the United States Department of Justice as a beneficiary of $1.5billion laundered cash.
Assets of some business associates of the ex-minister may also be attached, a source close to the investigation said.
Also under searchlight are about five luxury properties allegedly linked with a former official of the defunct Oceanic Bank.
Following a state visit to the UAE by President Muhammadu Buhari on January 19, 2016 , the Federal Government signed six agreements with the Emirates.
Some aspects of the understanding border on Judicial Agreements on Extradition, Transfer of Sentenced Persons, Mutual Legal Assistance on Criminal Matters, and Mutual Legal Assistance on Criminal and Commercial Matters (the recovery and repatriation of stolen wealth).
A source, who pleaded not to be named, said: “With the signing of the agreements, a major hurdle has been cleared and this will enable us to proceed with the application for the seizure of the assets of more than 22 highly-placed Nigerians who have been under probe for alleged money laundering.
“Before the pact, the UAE law mandates any foreign anti-graft agency to seek the consent of the owner of any property being verified before you can have access to same. But now, the anti-graft agencies in Nigeria can send a list of suspected assets to the UAE authorities through the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Mutual Legal Assistance will be invoked.
“Our task is made easier because the Land Registry System is digitalised in a manner that it will not take five minutes to obtain information on anyone suspected of money laundering.
“The onus is on us to present sufficient facts on why some of these assets should be seized. We will show evidence of corrupt practices, the laundering of public funds and the purchase of the suspected assets with looted funds.”
Responding to a question, the source added: “The EFCC has secured Mareva Injunction to freeze some foreign accounts and seize some assets linked with some of these highly placed Nigerians in some jurisdictions.”
Some of the off-shore financial institutions, where accounts are frozen, include BNP Paribas (Switzerland), LGT Bank (Switzerland), Standard Chartered Bank (London),Barclays Bank (London), Standard Energy (Voduz, Switzerland), HSBC (London), Corner Bank (Lugano, Switzerland) and Deutsche Bank (Geneva).
according to the source, “with the indictment of a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, by the US Department of Justice and her two alleged business associates, seizing their assets will be easier”.
Besides, said the official, the conviction of a former Oceanic Bank official by a court in Nigeria was enough to seize any assets linked to her.
“We are set to go with the seizure of eight apartments. But out of the eight identified, two apartments linked with Diezani are marked as J5 Emirates Hills (30million Dirham) and E146 Emirates Hills valued at 44million Dirham,” the source said.
The former governors, include one from the South-south, two from North-central, two from the North-east, one from the North-west, and one from the South-west.
“We also have the case of a former-governor who failed in his bid to transfer about $517million loot to Dominican Republic from the UAE. We will want to seize the cash,” the official said.