WASHINGTON (CN) - Calling it the "largest kleptocracy forfeiture action ever brought in the U.S.," the United States on Wednesday froze more than $458 million in corruption proceeds hidden across the globe.
Former Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha and conspirators was at the root of the crime, according to the civil forfeiture complaint unsealed in U.S. District Court.
"General Abacha was one of the most notorious kleptocrats in memory, who embezzled billions from the people of Nigeria while millions lived in poverty," Acting Assistant Attorney General Raman said in a statement.
The Justice Department said the restrained funds include approximately $313 million in two bank accounts in the Bailiwick of Jersey and $145 million in two bank accounts in France.
Still undetermined is the value of four investment portfolios and three bank accounts in the United Kingdom, but the government has estimate their worth at $100 million or more. Three are also five corporate entities registered in the British Virgin Islands named in the action.
These assets "represent the proceeds of corruption during and after the military regime of General Abacha, who assumed the office of the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria through a military coup on Nov. 17, 1993, and held that position until his death on June 8, 1998," the Justice Department said. "The complaint alleges that General Abacha, his son Mohammed Sani Abacha, their associate Abubakar Atiku Bagudu and others embezzled, misappropriated and extorted billions from the government of Nigeria and others, then laundered their criminal proceeds through the purchase of bonds backed by the United States using U.S. financial institutions."
In embezzling billions from the Central Bank of Nigeria, Gen. Abacha and others lied that the public funds were necessary for national security, according to the complaint. They instead allegedly moved the cash overseas through U.S. financial institutions.
The government also blames Gen Abacha and his finance minister for causing Nigeria to buy "Nigerian government bonds at vastly inflated prices from a company controlled by Bagudu and Mohammed Abacha, generating an illegal windfall of more than $282 million."
Abacha and his associates meanwhile extorted a French company and its Nigerian affiliate of more than $11 million by for certain government contracts, the Justice Department said.
U.S. arrest warrants for the assets were enforced on Feb. 25 and 26, 2014.