A court in Britain has seized approximately £2 million belonging to Lt. Gen. Jeremiah Useni (rtd), a former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory.
The Royal Court in Jersey Island, United Kingdom, seized Useni, who was FCT minister during the military administration of Gen. Sani Abacha.
The alleged sum, described as “dirty money transferred into local bank accounts by a Nigerian General and politician said to be corrupt dictator Sani Abacha’s right-hand man” by a Jersey Island publication, Bailiwick Express, was allegedly transferred by Useni into four Standard Chartered Bank accounts on the Island.
Useni, the second most senior officer under General Abacha’s rule from 1993 to 1998, is said to have opened an account in Jersey in 1986 in the name of ‘Mr Tim Shani,’ whom he later admitted did not exist and presented himself as the true account holder.
“Over the next 15 years, a total of £1.9 million was transferred into four accounts held by ‘Mr Shani’ with Standard Chartered Bank,” according to the publication.
“In 2001, the bank wrote to Gen Useni, believing him to be ‘Mr Shani,’ informing him that changes to anti-money laundering legislation in Jersey had resulted in stricter regulations, including the requirement to have a certified copy of his passport,” it continued.
“In response, ‘Mr Shani’ requested six months later that the entire balance in his existing accounts be transferred to a Nigerian bank, in which Gen. Useni was a shareholder.” This request was denied, and the bank was denied permission to operate the accounts by the police’s Joint Financial Crimes Unit in February 2003. Following several unsuccessful attempts by Gen Useni’s lawyer to unfreeze the accounts, Gen Useni finally identified himself as the true owner of the Shani accounts in 2007.
“Giving his occupation as ‘Lieutenant-General,’ he informed Standard Chartered that the profits of his multiple businesses, which included transportation, hotel hospitality, petrol stations, personal savings, and property investment, were the main source of his wealth.”
“He stated that he opened a Jersey-based account for “security” because it was “necessary to hold a proportion of wealth outside of Nigeria.”
“However, the bank asked Gen Useni to explain where the money came from and why he transferred it to the accounts, as well as’supporting documentation to back up the provenance of the funds’ and a full explanation of why the account was originally opened up under a different name.”
Although Gen. Useni stated in correspondence the following year that he dealt in property investment, selling some and renting others, and owned a shopping center, two petrol stations and a domestic gas station, a farm, and a rice mill, he provided no information about his income in the 1980s and 1990s.
“He (Useni) added that he had not set up the original account in a false name, rather he had used a ‘coded password name’ as advised by the person who had set it up on his behalf,” the publication stated.
“However, he did not explain why he used the name ‘Tim Shani,’ with Jersey’s Attorney General concluding that he did so to further distance himself from the ownership of assets with a likely criminal origin.”
“In a judgment handed down this morning setting out its decision to order the transfer of the £2 million into the island’s Criminal Offences Confiscation Fund,” the Royal Court stated, “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 his tenure.”
“The payments into the Shani accounts were most likely made to exercise political influence over the awarding of lucrative contracts to foreign and Nigerian companies for the supply of industrial or commercial services in Nigeria.”
“If this conduct had occurred in Jersey, it would have constituted the customary law offence of public office misconduct.”
According to the report, Gen. Useni fought the seizure through a Jersey-based lawyer but was unsuccessful.
“In accordance with a culture of gift-giving in Nigeria, which is still accepted practice in Nigeria, government officials from time to time receive cash gifts from friends and well-wishers during festive seasons,” he was said to have explained in a written affidavit.
“These acts are comparable to gifts made by Members of Parliament in England or corporate gifts made to directors/employees.”
“The culture must be viewed in the context of my time as a government official, when, aside from a culture of gift-giving, there was no official code of conduct governing the issue.”
“From what I understand, this could also be said of western governments, so Nigeria should not be chastised or criticized for this.”
“The primary reason for this again was nothing sinister, but for my own protection,” Useni reportedly said, explaining the use of a fictitious person’s name to set up the original account. Nigeria has had a number of coups, as you will see by reviewing its history, and we are now in our fifth republic.
“Governmental regimes are unstable, and if rulers who are not friendly to my political beliefs came to power, my wealth and safety could be jeopardized.”
He reportedly added that the money was saved for his retirement and that there was no code of conduct in place in Nigeria at the time that required him to declare it.
His explanations, however, did not persuade the Royal Court.
It also found that there had been a code of conduct for public officials in place in Nigeria well before substantial amounts were paid into the Jersey accounts.
“Essentially, [Gen Useni’s] case is that the source of the substantial sums paid into the bank accounts is cash gifts from friends, relatives, and well-wishers on festive and other ceremonial occasions in accordance with Nigerian custom,” it said. “However, in the Court’s opinion, it is simply not credible that friends, relatives, and well-wishers would make gifts to [Gen Useni], as a public official, of such magnitude to allow him not only to accumulate millions in
“It’s an explanation that borders on the ridiculous.”
It concluded, “The affidavits of [Gen Useni] have not satisfied the Court that the property held in the bank accounts is not tainted property, and we will make a Forfeiture Order in relation to that property on the application of the Attorney General.”
The Court reportedly ordered that £45,000 be deducted from the seized amount to cover Standard Chartered Bank‘s legal fees.
In 2020, Jersey returned to Nigeria more than £230 million in money that Gen. Abacha had laundered through the United States and the island.