Advocate Matthew Jowitt has won a landmark $300 million Royal Court case on behalf of the US Government.
The funds – the proceeds of Nigerian government corruption during the regime of the late General Sani Abacha – were frozen by an interim Royal Court restraining order in 2014. This was after US prosecutors secured a judgment in Washington DC, which found that the funds had been laundered through the American banking system before arriving in Jersey.
The Jersey restraint order was challenged by Doraville Properties Ltd (a BVI registered company and a front for President Abacha’s son, Mohammed).
In the first ever challenge under Jersey’s 2007 Civil Asset Recovery (International Co-operation) Law, Doraville’s lawyers argued that because the US had obtained the American judgment after Doraville failed to defend the action in Washington, there could be no basis in Jersey law to hold that the funds had been found to be criminally derived for the purposes of Jersey law. They also argued that affidavit evidence relied on by Federal prosecutors demonstrated that most of the money was clean. On both bases they argued that the restraint order should be quashed.
In fact the money derived from two major frauds on the Nigerian public purse, in which funds claimed to be needed for national security measures were diverted to the Abachas and their supporters, and national debt was paid off at several times its real value, with the over-payments again being embezzled. Over time the funds were laundered through the purchase and sale of high-interest yielding Nigerian Government Bonds, and via correspondent banks in the US, before finally arriving at Deutsche Bank International in St Helier.
In a 56 page judgment the Royal Court dismissed Doraville’s challenge and accepted Advocate Jowitt’s submissions that the restraint order was lawful.
The money remains frozen in Jersey pending the final registration of a Civil Asset Recovery Order under the 2007 Law.
The judgment is the latest success in Jersey’s response to Abacha corruption and the abuse of the Island’s banking system. In a recent judgment from the European Court of Human Rights, Nigerian-Asian businessman Raj Bhojwani – successfully prosecuted by Jowitt in 2010 for laundering Abacha corruption proceeds through Bank of India Jersey – lost his final appeal against his Jersey conviction.