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Remarks by Ambassador Mary Beth Leonard – Signing of the Bayelsa Agreement
February 16, 2023

[Solicitor General Jedy-Agba, Attorney General Dambo, representatives from the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and other friends.]  Good afternoon.

I am pleased to return to the Ministry of Justice today on behalf of the United States government to celebrate the repatriation of approximately $1 million to the Government of Nigeria — funds that will be invested in the critical healthcare sector in Bayelsa State to directly benefit the Nigerian people.

This marks the conclusion of a legal process launched over 15 years ago following the tenure of governor Diepreve Solomon Peter Alamieyeseigha, also known as DSP.  During his tenure as a public servant –  from 1999 until his impeachment in 2005 – DSP’s official salary did not exceed the equivalent of about $81,000 per year.  However, during that time, he accumulated millions of dollars’ worth of property through corrupt acts such as abuse of office, money laundering, and other violations of Nigerian and U.S. law.

The United States brought a case against DSP through the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative, as a part of our efforts to combat money laundering and corruption.  Prosecutors working under this initiative are responsible for investigations and litigation to recover the proceeds of foreign official corruption.  The funds are returned in accordance with our obligations under the UN Convention against Corruption and to further the tenets of transparency and accountability set forth in the Global Forum on Asset Recovery Principles for Disposition and Transfer of Confiscated Stolen Assets in Corruption Cases.

We are glad to see the fruits of such efforts in returns such as this one.  As a result of today’s agreement, health care across Bayelsa will be improved through the rehabilitation, refurbishment, and equipping of health care centers, as requested by the state.  In other words, these recovered proceeds – as was the case for the Mecosta Agreement we signed in August 2022 – will be transformed into assets that benefit the people harmed by the underlying corrupt conduct – to improve the lives of average Nigerians, not the corrupt elite.

Today’s gathering represents a continuation of our deep commitment to facilitating the recovery and return of the proceeds of official corruption to the Nigerian people.  It is also a testament to the partnership between our two democracies.  This case would not have been possible without the extensive assistance provided by the Federal Government of Nigeria.  On behalf of the United States, I want to take this opportunity to thank the Attorney General and Ministry of Justice for their collaboration during this and other investigations.  I  also extend my personal gratitude to the civil society actors that have been instrumental in bringing these cases to light here in Nigeria, as well as in the United States.

The United States will continue to do its part to deny safe haven to corrupt actors and the assets they have illicitly acquired, whether from here in Nigeria or other parts of the world.  As the first country to criminalize foreign bribery, we take our role as a standard bearer seriously and will continue to strive to increase accountability and transparency, and counter and respond to corrupt acts.

In 2022, the Department of State publicly designated over 80 corrupt foreign officials and their immediate family members and denied them entry into the United States under Section 7031(c) of the Department of State’s annual Appropriations Act.  Our Department of the Treasury further sanctioned 14 individuals and 15 entities in connection with corruption under the Global Magnitsky Sanctions program.  This past December, the United States hosted the International Anti-Corruption Conference in Washington, D.C., where several thousand participants from government, private sector, and civil society exchanged good practices for combating illicit finance and advancing asset recovery, among many other issues.

Later this year, the United States will host the United Nations Convention against Corruption Conference of States Parties.  As this year marks the 20th anniversary of the UN General Assembly’s adoption of the Convention, we look forward to continuing our work with the Government of Nigeria and the broader international community to discuss progress made and share information on important anti-corruption issues such as asset recovery.

I have participated in previous returns of assets as U.S. Ambassador, and I’m not sure if a next would fall to me, but I abut I assure you and the Nigerian public that returning such funds to the Nigerian people, and holding accountable corrupt leaders, will remain among the U.S.  mission’s highest priorities.

Thank you all for being here and my thanks again to all parties involved in making today’s agreement happen.