Nigeria’s retired general and politician, Jeremiah Useni, has forfeited 1.9 million British pounds hidden in bank accounts on the Island of Jersey, a court in that country ruled on Thursday, according to a local newspaper.
Bailiwick Express reported that the Royal Court of Jersey seized the funds kept in four accounts at the Standard Chartered Bank over a period of 15 years beginning in 1986 when the old soldier first opened an account in the name of “Tim Shani.”
It has since turned out Tim Shani is a fake name the former minister used in concealing his loot.
Mr Useni, 79, was a Lieutenant General in the Nigerian Army and close ally of late kleptocrat Sani Abacha under whom he served as Minister for the Federal Capital Territory. He later represented Plateau South in the Nigerian Senate between 2015 and 2019.
In 2006, a probe by the Office of the National Security Adviser under President Olusegun Obasanjo indicted Mr Useni. The probe report exclusively obtained by PREMIUM TIMES said Mr Useni acquired real estate, hospitality, petrol service, and farm assets from illicit sources.
Two of the assets identified in the probe report – Tim Tali Motels, Langtang, and Tim Tali Farms, Gwagwalada – have names similar to the fictitious name he used in Jersey.
In 2001, the Standard Chartered Bank in Jersey wrote Mr Useni – who was then known to the bank as “Tim Shani” – that newly enacted stricter anti-money regulations required him to submit a certifified copy of his passport.
Responding six months later, he continued to present himself falsely as “Mr Shani” and then requested that the funds in his accounts be transferred to a Nigerian bank account. His request was rejected, and in 2003, the matter triggered law enforcement actions, leading to the freezing of the suspicious accounts.
After four years of repeated attempts by Mr Useni’s lawyer to unfreeze the accounts, he finally disclosed his true identity and his ownership of the accounts in 2007.
While making that disclosure, he claimed to have derived his wealth from multiple businesses including transportation, hospitality, petrol stations, property investment, and personal savings. He said he decided to hide his wealth offshore for “security” because of the instability in Nigeria.
The businesses he cited as sources of his wealth were similar to those listed by the Obasanjo era probe as having been illegally acquired in Nigeria.
He was said to have provided no information about his income in the 1980s and 1990s to explain the provenance of his wealth but he said he had used the non-existent “Tim Shani” to open the accounts based on advice from his agent to use a “coded password name”
Jersey’s Attorney General concluded that he had done so to hide his connection with the funds and conceal their likely criminal source.
“The Attorney General believes that the Shani accounts were created to hold, hide and conceal bribes or other proceeds of corruption received by Useni during the period he held office,” Bailiwick Express quoted the court as saying before ordering the forfeited funds be transferred to Jersey’s Criminal Offences Confiscation Fund.
“The payments into the Shani accounts were more likely than not for the purposes or on account of exercising political influence over the award of lucrative contracts to foreign and Nigerian companies for the supply of industrial or commercial services in Nigeria.”
Mr Useni’s Jersey lawyer had reportedly tried to explain the source of the funds as cash gifts from friends and well-wishers during festive seasons in accordance with Nigerian culture. In addition, the lawyer claimed there was no Code of Conduct for public officers in Nigeria at the time the purported gifts were received.
The court rejected the explanations as absurd and incredible.
“The affidavits of [Gen Useni] have not satisfied the Court that the property held in the bank accounts is not tainted property and on the application of the Attorney General, we will make a Forfeiture Order in relation to that property,” the court concluded, according to Bailiwick Express.
Between 2003 and 2020, at least $470 million – stolen and laundered through the U.S. by late Mr Abacha and family and associates such as Kebbi State Governor Atiku Bagudu – was repatriated to Nigeria from Jersey.
However, the court did not rule that the 1.9 million pounds recovered from Mr Useni be transferred to Nigeria.
Mr Useni did not answer calls or reply a text message seeking his comment on Friday