Washington - The United States said Wednesday it had ordered a freeze on $458 million in assets hidden in European accounts by former dictator Sani Abacha and his conspirators.
The Justice Department said the corruption proceeds -- stashed away in bank accounts in Britain, France and Jersey -- were frozen at Washington's request with the help of local authorities.
"This is the largest civil forfeiture action to recover the proceeds of foreign official corruption ever brought by the department," said Mythili Raman, acting assistant attorney general.
According to a civil forfeiture complaint unsealed in the US District Court in Washington, the department seeks the recovery of more than $550 million in connection with the action.
The Justice Department said the corruption proceeds arose during and after the military regime of General Abacha, who became president of Nigeria through a military coup on November 17, 1993 and held that office until his death on June 8, 1998.
The complaint alleges that Abacha, his son Mohammed Sani Abacha, their associate Abubakar Atiku Bagudu and others "embezzled, misappropriated and extorted billions from the government of Nigeria and others, then laundered their criminal proceeds through the purchase of bonds backed by the United States using US financial institutions."
Raman said the department was determined to tackle kleptocracy by seizing the assets of foreign leaders who steal funds that properly belong to the citizens they serve.
"Today's action sends a clear message: we are determined and equipped to confiscate the ill-gotten riches of corrupt leaders who drain the resources of their countries."