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Return stolen assets, Buhari tells Cameron

11 May 2016, 18:29

Abuja - President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday urged Britain to return assets stolen by corrupt officials in pointed remarks after Prime Minister David Cameron called his country "fantastically corrupt".

"I am not going to demand any apology from anybody. What I am demanding is the return of the assets," Buhari told an anti-corruption event hosted by the Commonwealth Secretariat in London.

He noted the case of Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, a former governor of oil-rich Bayelsa state who was detained in London on charges of money laundering in 2005, but skipped bail by disguising himself as a woman.

Alamieyeseigha, who died in Nigeria in October, left behind "his bank account and fixed assets, which Britain is prepared to hand over to us. This is what I'm asking for", Buhari said.

"What would I do with an apology? I need something tangible," he said.

Cameron is hosting a major anti-corruption summit on Thursday, which Buhari is attending alongside Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

Also read: Nigeria 'fantastically corrupt', says David Cameron

Ahead of the talks, Cameron was caught on camera telling Queen Elizabeth II that the leaders of some "fantastically corrupt" countries were attending, adding that Nigeria and Afghanistan were "possibly the two most corrupt countries in the world".

A spokesman for Buhari said the comments were "embarrassing" and reflected "an old snapshot of Nigeria".

Buhari has embarked on a widespread anti-corruption campaign since taking office last year.

His critics have accused him of a political witch hunt.

The president said corruption was a "hydra-headed monster" that was "endemic and systematic" in Nigeria, and thanked Britain for helping his country tackle it, including by arresting some former state governors accused of fraud.

But in general, "our experience has been that repatriation of corrupt proceeds is very tedious, time consuming, costly", Buhari said.

'Takes two to tango'

Other Nigerian politicians were less forgiving about Cameron's comments.

"I am taken aback. I am not happy about it," said Senator Chukwuka Utazi, chairman of the Senate committee on anti-corruption and financial crimes, who was attending the Commonwealth event.

"If there's no market for stolen goods, then there would not be a thief. As long as the criminals steal, and Britain is ready to welcome them over here... it smacks of irresponsibility."

Senator Dino Melaye said he thought Cameron should apologise for his "reckless" and "demeaning" remarks, which he said were "insulting the integrity of my nation".

"Nigeria, like many other countries across the globe, is corrupt, but corruption is a two-way traffic," he said.

"The UK cannot continue to encourage and warehouse the proceeds of corruption and then accuse nations of being corrupt."

Melaye, a public supporter of Senate president Bukola Saraki who is currently on trial for fraud, said the money involved "billions of pounds stolen from Nigeria, deposited in properties and cash in the UK".

James Ibori, the former governor of the oil-rich Delta state who was acquitted in Nigeria on corruption charges but jailed in London for a similar offence, had owned six properties in London, according to anti-poverty group ONE.

These included a six-bedroom house with an indoor pool in Hampstead, a leafy suburb of north London, worth 3.28 million today (1.27 million euros, $4.73 million).

The properties have been seized but the proceeds have not yet been returned to Nigeria.

A group of Nigerian civil society groups wrote to Cameron ahead of Thursday's summit asking him to stop making Britain a "safe haven" for corrupt officials.

Jose Ugaz, chairman of global advocacy group Transparency International, told the Commonwealth event that Cameron's comments had only told part of the story.

"It takes two to tango," he said.

"Yes, there are countries with fantastic levels of corruption and some of them appearing in the third world, in poor parts of the world. But this would not happen without complicit participation of the first world."



Buhari meets APC governors

24 October 2016, 15:31

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