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Posts tagged ‘Switzerland’

Dear Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala II By Sonala Olumhense.


Columnist:

Sonala Olumhense

I thank you for acknowledging my article published last week.  I trouble you with this follow-up only because of the dangerous debris left behind by your Special Adviser, Mr. Paul Nwabuikwu.

First, on the “Abacha loot” recovery, let it be clear that my advocacy concerning Nigeria’s “recovered” funds is neither new, nor limited to your story.

In “Whatever Happened to the Abacha Loot?” (June 22, 2008), I wrote, “The national interest would be well served by a transparent picture of what has actually happened…The indications are that some of the funds recovered from the man and his family may have been re-stolen, or misused.”

In terms of numbers, my case is that Nigeria seems to have recovered between $2 and $3b from Abacha.  You say $500 million.

I know that the realistic number is mine because that is what the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), under Mr. Nuhu Ribadu, reported in 2006.

In a statement in London in November of that year, Mr. Ribadu stated that “Abacha “took over $6 billion from Nigeria,” and that $2 billion had been recovered during his term of office.  He repeated that figure that same month during the 12th International Anti-Corruption Conference in Guatemala.  In Dakar at the 2nd Annual High Level Dialogue on Governance and Democracy in Africa, just three months ago, Mr. Ribadu repeated the claim that Nigeria recovered $2 billion.  Nobody has ever challenged him.

It is also significant, Madam, that one year before Ribadu went on record about the $2 billion recovery for the first time, you said the same thing.  The event was a press conference in September 2005 in Switzerland.  Up till that point, Nigeria had recovered “about $2 billion total of assets,” you said.

Nonetheless, the $2 billion recovered in the Abacha hunt that was referred to by Mr. Ribadu and your good self in 2005 and 2006 is without prejudice to the $700 million that former Finance Minister Michael Ani said in November 1998 had been recovered from Abacha.  Ani described $1.3bn in illegal withdrawals discovered to have been made by Ismaila Gwarzo, the National Security Adviser for Abacha.

To Gwarzo belongs one of the sadder chapters of the loot recovery story. At the end of 1998, Abdussalam Abubakar said the government had recovered $1 billion from the Abacha family and another $250 million from Gwarzo.  When Obasanjo became president, at least $500 million more was recovered from Gwarzo in 2000.

The foregoing might explain why you said in a speech after you left the Obasanjo government, “General Abacha looted about $3-5 billion from the Nigerian treasury in truckloads of cash in foreign currencies, in traveler’s checks and other means.”

My point is: much more than $500 million was recovered from Abacha, some of them before, and some of them in-between your tenures as Minister of Finance.

Perhaps you refer only to $500m because the specific subject of your September 2005 Switzerland press conference was $458 million, which you said Nigeria had recovered.

That $500m is supported somewhat by an account of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and the World Bank, which said at the launch of the Stolen Asset Recovery in September 2007 that Nigeria had recovered a total of $505.5 million from the Swiss government.   On that occasion, at which you were present, it was also stated that up to $800m had been recovered from Abacha domestically.

Before all that, in November 2003, you personally announced that Nigeria had recovered $149 million from the Island of Jersey.  In case you may have forgotten, you clarified that the $149 million was not part of a $618 million trip you had just made to Switzerland at that time.

Nonetheless, in December 2006, La Declaration de Berne, a Swiss humanitarian body, alleged that Switzerland had repatriated $700 million to Nigeria, but alleged irregularities in Nigeria’s use of the money, claiming $200 million was unaccounted for.

That $700m figure seems to be in harmony with the statement made by Dr. Hans-Rudolf Hodel, the Swiss Ambassador to Nigeria at a press conference three months ago, during which he gave that figure as what his country returned to Nigeria.

Similarly, on 10 March 2008, the EFCC and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) announced at a joint press conference they had recovered “over N600 billion” in five years.

That sum seems somewhat conservative, but a lot more than $500 million of it came from Abacha.  Here are a few thoughts:

  • In May 2000, Luxembourg confirmed it had found and frozen $630 million in eight bank accounts in a private bank, in the names of the Abachas, awaiting Nigeria’s claim.
  • In August 2000, Nigeria asked Liechtenstein to help recover 100m British pounds.
  • In October 2001, a British High Court asked the government ahead to help Nigeria trace over $1bn in Abacha loot.
  • In May 2002, President Obasanjo struck a deal with the Abachas under which the government was to recover about $1.2 billion.
  • In February 2010, the British Government announced in Abuja it would repatriate 43 million pounds recovered from the offshore accounts of various Nigerian officials.

Some of these happened when you were not in the government, I know, but we are not talking about your personal life.  The point is that as a people, we cannot move forward unless there is true and full transparency.  Where is all the money?  Can you tell us?

Your over-reaching spokesman illustrates my point.  “On the NNPC oil accounts issue…Dr Okonjo-Iweala has called for an independent forensic audit to establish the facts of any unaccounted for money and ensure that all every Naira that is owed the treasury is returned to the Federation Account…the fundamental problem of determining the facts as a basis for action must still be tackled. Is there room for more action on corruption? Of course the answer can only be yes. But action is needed to achieve change. Talk is cheap, action is crucial.”

Exactly, Madame Minister, let us have a forensic independent audit.  But may I propose three productive caveats to your government?  The audit must be international; cover the NNPC and the recovered funds; and date from 1999.   This is the only scenario that can guarantee that the full story will be told.

Let me illustrate the depth of our depravity with a graphic example made by Ribadu in 2009 to the US House of Representatives Committee on Financial Services.  “Mr. D.S.P. Alamieyeseigha, governor of oil rich Bayelsa State. He had four properties in London valued at about £10 million, plus another property in Cape Town valued at $1.2 million. £1 million cash was found in his bedroom at his apartment in London. £2 million was restrained at the Royal Bank of Scotland in London and over $240 million in Nigeria. This is in addition to bank accounts traced to Cyprus, Denmark, USA and the Bahamas.”

This is the kleptocracy in which Nigerian leaders have stolen over $380bn since independence, as the same Ribadu told the BBC in 2006.  Yet, that Alamieyeseigha, like others, has been pardoned by your government.  This is why we will never get real answers by putting your “independent” audit in the hands of a pre-programmed Abuja panel.

Finally, you bristle at my reference to the issue of the recurrent budget.  You say I have no moral authority to comment on the matter.

So let us talk about moral authority.

Following your negotiations of Nigeria’s foreign with the Paris Club in 2006, Audu Ogbeh, a former Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chairman, publicly said that one “top member” of your government had walked away with a personal fee of N60 billion.  I had expected that President Obasanjo or you would be outraged, and challenge the allegation, but nobody ever has.  I would have defended my father’s name.

I repeat my support of your campaign finance proposal, in principle.  But a cafeteria approach to reform never works, and your forensic audit is bound to be eaten alive in the all-purpose impunity and kleptocracy that currently masquerades as governance.  The answer is banging on the front door.

Source: SAHARA REPORTERS.

Pope Opens Critical Week for Reform, Family Issues.


Image: Pope Opens Critical Week for Reform, Family IssuesPope Francis celebrates a mass during his visit to the San Tommaso Apostolo parish church on the outskirts of Rome on Feb. 16.

Pope Francis is opening the most critical week of his year-old papacy: Two commissions of inquiry on Vatican finance will report their recommendations for reform and preparations get under way for a summit on family issues that will deal with the widespread rejection by Catholics of church teaching on contraception, divorce and gay unions.

In between, Francis will preside over his first ceremony to formally welcome 19 new cardinals into the elite club of churchmen who will eventually elect his successor. In typical Francis style, the new cardinals hail from some of the poorest places on earth, including Haiti, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast.

The first half of Francis’ busy week will be devoted to the third meeting of his “Group of Eight” advisers, the senior cardinals representing every continent who Francis appointed to help him govern the church and overhaul the antiquated and inefficient Vatican bureaucracy. They are due to hear recommendations from two panels of experts on reforming the troubled Vatican bank and rationalizing the Holy See’s overall financial and administrative structures.

Francis was elected with a mandate to reform the Roman Curia, as the Holy See administration is known, to make it more responsive to the needs of the 21st century Catholic Church. He wants to make the curia more of a support to bishops trying to spread the faith rather than an obstacle. He has made bureaucratic reform his first-year priority, paying special attention to the scandal-marred Vatican bank, long accused by Italian authorities as being an off-shore tax haven for well-connected Italians and, more recently, a place where money could be laundered.

On the eve of the G8 meeting, the head of the Vatican bank pleaded his case to Francis’ hometown newspaper, telling Argentina’s La Nacion daily that his process of reform hadn’t yielded any “systematic violations” of the Vatican’s anti-money laundering laws but just some “black sheep.”

One of those black sheep is Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, an accountant in the Vatican’s finance ministry who is currently on trial for allegedly trying to smuggle 20,000 euro ($26,000) from Switzerland to Italy, and is also accused in another case of using his Vatican bank accounts to launder money. The bank’s top two managers resigned in July after Scarano was arrested.

“We’re in a crucial moment,” the bank president, Ernst Von Freyberg, told La Nacion. “The (bank) commission will hand in its report in the coming days, as will the commission on the economic affairs, and then the Holy Father will decide what to do.”

While Von Freyberg said he didn’t know if outright closure was an option, doing so would certainly deprive Francis of the 50 million euros a year the bank gives the pope for his works of charity.

Von Freyberg, Benedict XVI’s last major appointment before resigning, outsourced his reform to the U.S. consulting firm Promontory Group. The other commission of inquiry, tasked with advising the Holy See on more structural reforms in its overall financial and administrative sphere, also brought in outside experts, tapping McKinsey & Co. to help modernize its communications operations and KPMG to bring its accounting up to international standards.

One of Francis’ top advisers and a member of the G8, Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, cautioned against any quick decisions being made by the pope after the commissions present their recommendations.

“Things of the Lord take time,” Maradiaga told private TGCom24.

On a slightly more accelerated timetable are plans for the October meeting of bishops at the Vatican on family issues. A broader group of cardinals are expected to discuss the summit, or synod, in the second half of the week and then the main planning group gets down to work early next week.

Francis called the synod late last year and took the unusual step of commissioning surveys from ordinary Catholics about how they understand and practice church teaching relating to marriage, sex and other issues related to the family.

The results, at least those reported by bishops in Europe and the United States, have been an eye-opener: The church’s core teachings on sexual morals, birth control, homosexuality, marriage and divorce were rejected as unrealistic and outdated by the vast majority of Catholics, who nevertheless said they were active in parish life and considered their faith vitally important.

Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Florida recently summarized the results of his survey, to which some 6,800 people responded. Most were older, married Catholics and regular churchgoers. But even they found church teaching out of synch with today’s world.

“On the matter of artificial contraception the responses might be characterized by the saying, ‘that train left the station long ago,'” he recently wrote. “Catholics have made up their minds and the sensus fidelium (sense of the faithful) suggests the rejection of church teaching on this subject.”
© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Jonathan expresses fear of Boko Haram in the world stage at Davos, Switzerland, says it is his biggest challenge.


President-Goodluck-Jonathan

President Goodluck Jonathan has described the activities of the Jama’atu Ahlus Sunnati Lidda’awati Wal Jihad, otherwise known as Boko Haram as the biggest headache of his government.“In terms of security, Boko Haram is the biggest challenge we have at the moment,” the Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Reuben Abati had quoted the President.Jonathan spoke during a televised debate entitled, “Africa’s Next Billion,” held at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.His statement was however contained in a snippet of the debate posted by Abati, on his Twitter handle.President Jonathan in the statement said it was wrong for anybody to say that corruption was the cause of all the problems confronting Africa.“Everything that does not happen the way it should in Africa, people say corruption is the answer. I don’t agree,” Abati quoted Jonathan as saying.The President also reportedly told the gathering that the power sector privatisation carried out by his administration was already yielding positive fruits.He claimed that Nigerians had started witnessing increased electricity supply within a short period.In the full statement, which Abati later made available to journalists, the presidential spokesman quoted Jonathan as calling on all stakeholders in the continent to continue to work for greater security and political stability, which he described as prerequisite for sustained socio-economic development.“Security and political stability are key to development. Investors will not come to any country that is insecure or politically unstable. Happily, many African countries now enjoy political stability. It is a major reason for the positive economic growth rates, which we are now witnessing on the continent and we must continue to do our best to maintain and expand the frontiers of political stability on our continent,” Jonathan said.He said, “Economic inclusion is very important and we are already taking necessary steps to improve

financial inclusion in our country. Transforming our agricultural sector is one way in which we are doing so.“We are doing all that we can to transform agriculture in Nigeria into a much more productive and job creating sector. We are also working to create more inclusive wealth through better education, skills acquisition programmes and policies that encourage the addition of value to our primary products before exportation.”

Source: Radio Biafra.

Bolton: Syria Peace Talks ‘Doomed to Failure’.


The international peace talks in Switzerland to discuss a resolve in Syria’s civil war are “doomed to failure,” claimed former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton on Fox News on Wednesday.

The talks got off to a rocky start Wednesday, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry argued a solution for Syria’s civil war must include President Bashar al-Assad stepping down from power, according to CBS News. The talks are an attempt to address the three-year civil war in Syria between rebel forces and the regime of President Assad that has claimed as many as 130,000 lives.

Story continues below video.

“The notion that these powers were willing to talk about easing Assad out has never been accurate. And yet, that has formed the basis of the Obama administration’s policy,” he said.
Bolton said Russia needed Syria because it was the location of their “only naval base outside the territory of Russia.” He maintained part of the problem was that the Obama administration based their policy of the “illusion” the U.S. and Russia were in agreement on a solution for Syria.

“I think, in fact, you can make a case that the administration’s policy on Syria has been based on illusions for three straight years — the most important of which, right now, is the illusion that the United States and Russia shared a common interest in a peaceful transition of power away from the Assad regime.

“That has never been Russia’s position,” Bolton explained.

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© 2014 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

By Wanda Carruthers

US Pressure on Swiss Banks May End Era of Secret Accounts.


Image: US Pressure on Swiss Banks May End Era of Secret Accounts

By Lisa Barron

The Swiss banking industry is slowly but surely abandoning its legacy of guarding the secrecy of customer accounts.

As many as 40 of the country’s approximately 300 banks have said they would voluntarily turn over client information to the U.S. Department of Justice in return for immunity from prosecution for helping Americans evade taxes, reports USA Today.

The Justice Department set a deadline of Dec. 31 for the banks to take deals protecting them from prosecution in exchange for handing out Americans’ account information.

“What’s really clear is that this [Justice] program is at the limit of what is tolerable for banks in Switzerland,” Sindy Schmiegel of the Swiss Bankers Association in Basel told the newspaper.

The effort is part of a government crackdown on tax evaders and overseas banks that heated up in 2009 after UBS, Switzerland’s biggest bank, agreed to a $780 million settlement for concealing identities and assets from the IRS.

The Justice Department is currently investigating 14 major Swiss financial institutions, including Credit Suisse, Julius Baer, and the Swiss arm of HSBC, for shielding U.S. tax evaders, and many leading banks that are not yet being probed have been urging wealthy clients to turn themselves in to the tax man, Politico reported last month.

“The banks have every incentive to shove their American clients into compliance in order to reduce the penalties,” tax attorney Jeff Neiman, who prosecuted UBS for the U.S. government, told the publication.

Politico cited three letters from Swiss banks to U.S. clients urging them to come clean.

“Your account information may be subject to a treaty request from the United States to the Swiss Federal Tax Administration, which may result in your account information being turned over to the DOJ or IRS,” warned one letter sent by Corner Bank.

Meanwhile, the World Economic Forum taking place this week at Davos, Switzerland, will reportedly hold a forum dedicated to how the country’s banking industry can reinvent itself in the absence of banking secrecy.

“Swiss bankers accept that they are living in a new reality,” Bruno Patusi, head of wealth and asset management at Zurich-based financial services firm EY, told USA Today.

“But we will only see a change in certain areas. Confidentiality is still extremely important. It is true that we are seeing assets flow out [of Switzerland], but that’s partly because the next generation is more interested in spending than saving.”

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© 2014 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

NNPC/Swiss Traders $6.8 Bn ‘Fraud’: The Facts Of The Matter By Ifeanyi Izeze.


 

By Ifeanyi Izeze

The dramatized outrage in the National Assembly over the $6.8 billion (about N1.07 trillion) alleged fraud involving the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and two Swiss oil traders, could best be described as self–deceit and outright nonsense.  Playing unnecessary partisan politics with the seriousness of this matter is in itself a more serious fraud against the Nigerian people.

The question is: did the Swiss NGO say anything we did not know here? No! Is there anything new in the relationship between the NNPC and the Swiss trading duo, Trafigura and Vitol? Nothing at all! Did it start today? The answer is No! The scheme has been in place since 2009 so giving the wrong impression that it was a Jonathan thing was as usual unnecessary politicization of a very serious crime that has drained our national coffer.

It was a report: “Swiss Traders Opaque Deals in Nigeria,” by a Swiss non-governmental advocacy organisation, the Berne Declaration, that outlined how the NNPC, in connivance with two Swiss oil trading companies- Vitol and Trafigura, drained Nigeria of over $6.8 billion in subsidy payments through shady deals involving lifting of crude oil at prices far below what obtained in the open market.

The meat of the Swiss report was that the ‘exclusive’ partnerships of Vitol and Trafigura with the NNPC gave the two Swiss commodity trading companies over 36 per cent discount off the open market prices of crude oil.

As said, Vitol and Trafigura, two major oil traders in Switzerland, and seven Nigerian fuel importers created offshore subsidiaries referred to as ‘letterbox companies’ to defraud the country of over $6.8bn in subsidy payments between 2009 and 2011 — in addition to such activities as ship-to-ship transfer to create untraceable paperwork in payment of subsidy money to non-existing importers who partnered with politically exposed persons.

Let me now say it here that all the information published by the Swiss NGO in its report, came wholesale from the Ribadu Committee Report which also lifted theirs wholesale from the NEITI 2009-2011 Audit Report. So the dramatised outrage at the National Assembly was mere politics, well rehearsed to either add to the crisis between the old and the new PDP or to support the APC smear campaign against the Jonathan government. The National Assembly would have been taken more seriously if they had rather shouted over the “death and burial” of the Ribadu Committee report or even the implementation of the recommendations of the NEITI 2009-2011 Audit report which uncovered more serious fraud in subsidy payments and most of which were perpetrated by some of these folks in the National Assembly or their political sponsors.

The lawmakers feigned pained that the NNPC was selling crude oil to the traders at give-away price (36 per cent below open market prices). This also was either a deliberate mischief or a clear exhibition of total ignorance of where the fraud/scam in the NNPC-Trafigura/Vitol deal was embellished.
This is where the real fraud is: Under the transaction, the trading companies were expected to lift Nigerian crude oil and in return, supply her with just three refined petroleum products: Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) commonly called petrol, Diesel (AGO) and Dual purpose Kerosene (DPK).

In actual fact there is no question of 36 percent discount in the first instance because the trading companies were not buying the NNPC crude oil but ‘helping’ our disabled national apex oil concern refine its crude abroad. And of course,  in addition to shortchanging the nation of over twenty by-products derivable from processing of crude oil, the NNPC still paid huge charges for the service including to and from haulage.The grey area is in the matching of the worth of crude taken away with the costing methods of the by–products of the refined crude oil including scores of derivatives. It is in the act of balancing the volume of crude lifted and the products returned in terms of volume and value that the fraud lays.

At the time this conspiracy was initiated, there were several outcries that the NNPC and the Ministry of Petroleum Resources used inconsistent and highly subjective methods to arrive at the crude-oil-for-refined-product deal with Vitol and Trafigura, Amsterdam- based Swiss trading or more aptly buying and selling companies. The allegation was then dismissed as a smear campaign by competitors that lost out in the oil-for-products swap deal.

Contrary to what some folks in the National Assembly think, the fraudulent oil –for –product swap trade was conceived, packaged and arranged by two NNPC group managing directors whose tenures ran into each other under Dr Rilwanu Lukman as minister of Petroleum in the Yar’adua administration. The idea was initiated under the late Abubakar Yar’adua whose demise saw Mohammed Barkindo taking over from where he stopped as NNPC GMD.

Shamsudeen Usman and Mansur Muktar as finance ministers (2009-2010) were fully aware of this evil conspiracy which was packaged by the NNPC to look as the only way out of the then incessant fuel crisis in the country.

President Yar’adua did not buy the idea. He raised issues over the costing methods and how the by-products were to be accounted for. But the proponents including Dr. Lukman, the gang from NNPC headed by Barkindo and politically exposed persons in and around the Yar’adua Presidency saw the opportunity provided by the late president’s incapacitation to smuggle the same template that was queried through the back door in the night to Goodluck Jonathan who then as acting president naively approved if only that would make him acceptable to the cabal that held sway at the Presidency then.
So this matter no be Diezani matter at all! It predated the present petroleum minister. Though she, with the express approval of bros, continued the scam maybe even modified it to better serve the new gang occupying the presidency.
Nigerians should be concerned that the approach the National Assembly is taking would not achieve a single result except ofcourse enriching some committee members. I bet Madueke even the Vitol and Trafigura people have more than enough and ofcourse genuine explanation to dazzle or more aptly confuse the National Assembly on this matter. Mark my words!

Truth be told, the method used in arriving at the $6.8 billion being dangled as loss to the nation could best be described as subjective. And depending on the political meter used, the pendulum can swing either to the far more or far less side depending on who is taking the measurement.

How was the cumulative loss in terms of all the derivable by-products generated from processing the volume of crude oil the Swiss traders lifted within the period under review ascertained? How was volume-by volume and then value per value of the lifted crude against the petrol, diesel and kerosene these Swiss thieves returned to us in the swap deal matched and by who? Does the National Assembly have the capacity and even the political will to be honest to do serious work along these lines? It does not.

Honestly, this country needs a change in approach in its efforts to tackle the hydra-headed problem of corruption in government and its agencies. Rather than harass the petroleum minister and everybody involved for few days and just let them go on a clean bill, is it not better to look at ways of retrieving what was stolen from us even if it requires straining or even breaking diplomatic relations with countries where these thieves come from and also where our own thieves bank or invest monies stolen from this nation?

What has the Swiss government done or even said concerning this revelation of massive financial crime that defrauded Nigeria of over $6.8 billion as alleged? Beyond collating data of fraud from our anti-graft agency and publishing it to give the impression they are working, what is Berne Declaration, the Swiss NGO, going to do to compel their government to cooperate with Nigeria tracing and recovering this stolen money and returning same back to Nigeria, if for nothing, at least to encourage us to continue to cooperate with them in future researches/investigations?

We need to take- on some of these countries including America and Britain. It’s not enough rubbishing Nigeria as the most corrupt country in the world meanwhile, the proceeds of this stealing are housed in these countries and are part of what is sustaining their economies. Does our government even have enough morale grounds to take these kinds of action? For where! Forgive me, I think like a village diplomat!
IFEANYI IZEZE is an Abuja-based Consultant and can be reached on:iizeze@yahoo.com

Source: SAHARA REPORTERS.

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