• Sunday, July 14, 2024
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Bagudu becomes minister amidst US asset probe

The appointment of Atiku Bagudu as minister of budget and planning is under scrutiny.

The United States accuses the minister of helping a former military dictator of looting the country of billions of dollars in the 1990s while he was the budget minister.

The minister, who has never been convicted of any crime, faces an ongoing forfeiture lawsuit before a federal judge in Washington.

The US Justice Department accuses him of embezzlement, misappropriation and extortion of billions from the Nigerian government while being part of a group headed by former military ruler Sani Abacha.

The former governor and senator was sworn in on Monday as budget and economic planning minister.
Bagudu’s legal representative also highlights that the US claims are solely based on the Justice Department’s stance, neglecting Bagudu’s role in aiding fund recovery after Abacha’s death.

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Court documents show that Bagudu repatriated over $650 million to Nigeria in 1998 and reached a settlement in 2003 that saw him return $163 million without admitting guilt.

However, the forfeiture complaint against Bagudu’s assets includes challenges from his brother Ibrahim, who seeks to retain certain assets. The US Department of Justice had alleged Bagudu’s involvement in financial transactions linked to money laundering during Abacha’s era.

Efforts to seize investment portfolios held for Bagudu’s family have spanned a decade, with negotiations ongoing for a potential settlement involving the US Justice Department and the Nigerian government. The latter claims a previous agreement prevents aiding the US seizure of assets.

A revised 2018 settlement under the previous administration would transfer portfolio ownership to Nigeria, returning around 70% of the contested funds to Bagudu.

Bagudu’s family argues that Nigeria has long relinquished rights to the assets, and the US lacks evidence of money laundering. The US requested Nigeria’s withdrawal from the litigation, asserting that its settlement with Bagudu shouldn’t impact the US’s claims.

The US State Department is reviewing the implications of Bagudu’s appointment, while the Justice Department declined to comment. Bagudu’s legal representative asserts he hasn’t been convicted anywhere and has fulfilled obligations under the 2003 agreement, making significant contributions to Nigerian society over the past two decades.

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