WADOO!!NEWS: Switzerland has returned more illegal monies from former heads of state – Ambassador Hodel
Hans-Rudolf Hodel, Ambassador, Embassy of Switzerland to Nigeria, Chad and Niger, speaks on the insinuation that his country remains a safe haven for looted funds by African government officials.
How much has the Swiss government repatriated to Nigeria from Abacha loot?
700 million dollars but that was 10 years ago.
It has been reported that your government is keen on modifying your banking secrecy laws in order to discourage politically exposed persons from depositing illicit funds in your country. What is the status of these intended modifications and to what extent will these modifications help countries like Nigeria identify and retrieve illicit funds deposited in your country by politically exposed persons?
Of course there are two things; one is the criminal money and the other is the money of politically exposed persons. In general, the policy in Switzerland has changed a lot and I am very happy about that because our banking secrecy was much disputed. We always said it was the problem of the country where these people lived; it was not our problem. If people come and deposit money and the bank can accept that money except there is a criminal process in the transaction, then we incorporate the authorities, but this has changed very much.
Now banking secrecy doesn’t exist anymore for foreigners, it continues to exist for Swiss people so the Swiss tax authorities can’t ask our banks questions, but I also believe this will change with the coming on stream of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and other international organisations, so there will be automatic exchange of information. Now when it comes to criminal monies, the Swiss banks are no longer interested in such monies and, when you want to deposit such monies before, you will just have to prove the monies are yours, but now you will have to prove that you have earned the monies in a legal way.
Of course if you deposit 200 dollars and you are a journalist, we say as a journalist you can have such money. But if you want to deposit 2 million dollars as a journalist, you have to prove that you earned that money or inherited it or you did a super job because normally a journalist doesn’t have 2 million dollars. Yes, some journalists are rich but they can prove that they got the money in a legitimate way.
This has changed completely and, of course, there is legal assistance in some cases. For instance, a journalist has effectively deposited his money and then it turns out that not everything was legal. A country where criminal prudery is going on, we can ask for legal assistance and help the authorities to clarify these things and eventually return the money. For the politically exposed persons also, we have new rules- we don’t want those monies anymore.
Of course it becomes complicated because if you are a head of state and you go to a country, there is also the respect. You can’t tell a president he is a criminal; even if you ask for confirmation from his minister of finance, the minister of commerce and so on, all will sign that he is a very good president and his money is legal, but as soon as he ceases to be president, things might change.
People may find out that it was not that legal and those who signed for him also participated in all the illegality, and back then, countries that wanted such monies returned had to prove that the monies deposited in the Swiss banks were truly illegal.
Now a head of state or even a former head of state has to prove that his monies are legally acquired, which, of course, is much more difficult. By the way, Switzerland is the country that has returned more illegal monies from former heads of state than any other country in the world that were deposited in its banks; 2.5 billion dollars returned.
In the Abacha case, it was also like this-the Nigerian authorities said they had the inking that Abacha had stolen monies from Nigeria, so the Swiss authorities informed all the banks if they had any account belonging to Abacha and they all returned such monies which amounted to 700 million dollars.
The Nigerian government asked that the monies be returned and we did. We said the monies will be given back to the people; so there was a repatriation agreement between the World Bank and the Swiss government that the monies will be used for projects in the interest of the population and not just sent to the account of the new government which was done and there was a report on that.
Of course such agreement is difficult because the Swiss government can’t tell the Nigerian government how to use their monies, but we filed an agreement that they will go to the budget of the state for infrastructure like schools, roads and drugs and the World Bank confirmed it.