U.S. Will Seize Half Billion in Late Nigerian Dictator Abacha's Loot

Image: Nigerian President General Sani Abacha during a summit in Lome, on March 26, 1997.

Nigerian President General Sani Abacha during a summit in Lome, on March 26, 1997. The United States said March 5, 2014 it had ordered a freeze on $458 million in assets hidden in European accounts by former Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha and his conspirators. ISSOUF SANOGO / AFP - Getty Images file

The U.S. has won the right to seize and redistribute nearly half a billion dollars hidden in bank accounts around the world by Gen. Sani Abacha, the former military dictator of Nigeria, the Department of Justice said Thursday.

Officials said the forfeiture of $480 million, which was authorized by a federal judge in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, sets a record for so-called "kleptocracy" actions. The U.S. froze the assets in March.

“Rather than serve his county, General Abacha used his public office in Nigeria to loot millions of dollars, engaging in brazen acts of kleptocracy,” said Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell. “With this judgment, we have forfeited $480 million in corruption proceeds that can be used for the benefit of the Nigerian people."

The forfeited assets, from banks in France, Ireland, the U.K. and the Channel Islands, represent the proceeds of corruption during and after the military regime of Gen. Abacha, who became president via military coup on Nov. 17, 1993, and held power until his death on June 8, 1998. According to a Justice Department press release, "The ultimate disposition of the funds will follow the execution of the judgment in each of these jurisdictions."

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A complaint filed in federal court in 2013 described an intricate conspiracy in which Abacha, his sons and other conspirators allegedly spirited billions out of the country. The U.S. is still seeking another $148 million in funds held in four other U.K. accounts.