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Switzerland to Repatriate Stolen Funds to Nigeria

FILE - A money changer counts Nigerian currency in Lagos, Nigeria, Oct. 20, 2015. Switzerland has agreed to repatriate $321 million in stolen funds to Nigeria.

Switzerland will repatriate about $321 million to Nigeria following an agreement between the governments in Abuja and Geneva, according to Nigerian presidential spokesman Garba Shehu.

The agreement was signed Tuesday by Nigeria's Attorney General Abubakar Malami and Switzerland's Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter in Abuja.

The money represents what's left from funds that former military ruler Sani Abacha stashed in banks in Switzerland. Shehu says he expects the funds to be repatriated soon.

But some Nigerians are skeptical the remaining Abacha funds will be put to good use. They cite previous money repatriated, which they said was stolen or wasn't used to benefit citizens.

Shehu says President Muhammadu Buhari's government, with its zero tolerance for corruption and its transparency and demands for accountability, is winning the confidence of the international community to help the West African country recover public funds siphoned out of its borders.

"It is a happy development and the Nigerian government has been on these issues for quite a while,” Shehu said. “And it is quite a coincidence that at a time when our reserves are really going down, and there is a yearning for more and more cash, that the Swiss federation is delivering this windfall."

Billions of dollars allegedly missing

Nigerians say the government appears to have lost some steam on the effort to recover stolen public funds allegedly siphoned out of the country by senior officials.

They say the administration announced billions of dollars taken out of the country, but has kept quiet about the process to repatriate those funds. They are demanding more action from the government to recover the money.

Shehu says the administration is continuing efforts to recover the stolen funds despite challenges. He says it will take the political will of some of the leaders in the foreign countries where the public funds were siphoned and transferred to help Nigeria recoup the losses.

"The recovery of the stolen assets … does not itself come easy because it will require a lot of processes — sometimes going through the court system of the countries that are involved,” Shehu said. “In some of the countries, they enjoyed it when [the funds] are in their own countries in their own systems, so they don't want to let go.”

He adds that the country needs to recover the stolen funds to build more infrastructure, among other government priorities, to improve the living conditions of Nigerians.