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Nigeria's War on Corruption Intensifies - 2001-07-27


A judicial commission in Nigeria has accused former high-level government officials of embezzling millions of government money. The suspects have been ordered to refund stolen money to the government.

After two years of a much publicized war on corruption with no high level convictions, the Nigerian government has published a report demanding that two former cabinet ministers refund $20 million in stolen funds.

The reports comes from a judicial commission established to investigate the disappearance of $60 million from a government fund set up to aid the country's cocoa exports.

The report said $33 million were, in the document's words, "frittered away" in 1998 and 1999 on incessant and self-serving overseas trips and questionable contracts.

Two former commerce ministers under the military government of deceased dictator Sani Abacha have been held responsible for much of the embezzlement.

Among other charges, General Patrick Aziza stands accused of paying one company $2 million to buy tractors that apparently were never delivered. Another former commerce minister, Vice Admiral Jibril Ayinla is accused of illegally withdrawing $55,000 for advertising and stationary.

The government suspects Central Bank officials of collaborating with the embezzlement.

The justice ministry and security services have been ordered to take appropriate steps to recover the money.

For years, Nigeria has been at the bottom of a list of the world's most corrupt countries published annually by the Berlin-based watchdog organization, Transparency International.

The two-year-old elected government of President Olusegun Obasanjo has been fighting to recover more than $1 billion allegedly stolen under the Abacha government.

The justice commission report also accuses the post-Abacha military dictatorship of Abdulsalami Abubakar of wide-scale corruption. Mr. Abubakar has been applauded for organizing Nigeria's historic transition to civilian, elected rule two years ago. But billions of dollars in foreign currency reserves reportedly disappeared during his last months in office.

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