Abacha Loot: Trial Opens without Son in Court
A trial against the son of former Head of State Sani Abacha opened in Geneva yesterday without his son Abba Abacha appearing in court.
His Swiss lawyer said Abba was unable to get a visa to enter Switzerland in time. He is appealing against a 2009 guilty verdict of belonging to a criminal organisation and the court seizure of $350 million linked to his father Swissinfo reported.
According to Abacha's lawyer, Pierre de Preux, his client applied for a Swiss visa in Abuja on Wednesday, but was told by the embassy that issuing a visa would take at least 10 days.
Abacha, 41, who is accused of plundering Nigeria’s accounts while his father was in power in the 1990s, is ready to go and explain himself, de Preux said.
“This is not a simple traffic offence case,” he told journalists, adding that he would ask the court to set a new date for the hearing.
Lawyer David Bitton, who is representing Nigeria, described the defence tactics as crass: “They are trying to buy themselves an acquittal request.”
A trial can still take place in Abacha’s absence, however.
Olivier Longchamp of the Berne Declaration, a Swiss non-governmental organisation, said he was concerned about the development.
“The trial risks being a failure because of the fact that he didn’t get a visa and that some of the 40 witnesses might not appear,” he told swissinfo.ch.
Regardless of whether Abacha arrives in Switzerland, Longchamp believes the case is still a step forward.
“There’s a real willingness to fight impunity and to punish people even if they are political personalities.”
Abacha rose to power in 1993. Between then and his death in 1998, it is believed that the Abacha clan siphoned off $3 billion from public coffers.
Methods varied from the straightforward pillaging of the Central Bank – in some cases palettes of banknotes were delivered to the general’s home – to more sophisticated practices like embezzling public funds, fraudulent vaccination programmes or pocketing money from foreign firms working in the country.
Some $700 million of the money from these activities ended up in Swiss bank accounts or transiting via Switzerland.
According to the investigating judge, after the death of their elder brother Ibrahim in 1996, Abba Abacha and his brother Mohammed held important roles in the control of the stolen assets. Sani Abacha had 10 children.
Having studied geology in Nigeria, Abba worked for the Ferrostall group in Germany from 1994-1997 before returning home.
He is accused of using false identities and passports to open over 30 bank accounts from 1996 onwards in Switzerland, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein and the Bahamas to stash his father and relatives’ money.
In the inquiry he claimed he had acted at the request of his brother, who was behind the affairs, without thinking there had been anything wrong or without knowing that it was illegal to use false names for banking transactions.