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The corridors of power

Bored? Looking for ways to kill a few hours? Try typing 'Maryam Abacha' into Google.

Mrs Abacha is the widow of General Sani Abacha, head of state in Nigeria until his untimely death, aged 54, in 1998. Nigeria is home to a thriving industry in scam letters and emails – so-called 419s – in which the recipient is offered a cut of millions of dollars sitting in a bank account.

It would be an understatement to say that Mrs Abacha’s name is being taken in vain. Her name (sometimes ‘Marian’) graces tens of thousands of these infernal scam mailshots. They are instantly identifiable by their appalling spelling and twisted syntax.

An example found on Google: ‘l am contacting you in view of the fact that we will be of great assistance to each other likeness developing a cordial relationship.’

Nigeria’s English language teachers must be in despair.

During five years in power, General Abacha merrily looted the state coffers. There were reports of truckloads of cash turning up at his mansion. He is thought to have siphoned off more than $3bn (£1.56bn) into offshore accounts.

And they want it back. The Swiss courts recently ordered the return of $458m held in Swiss accounts, adding to $500m returned voluntarily by Swiss banks. Jersey has repatriated $170m.

But other countries have been less co-operative. Nigeria has asked for help in tracing looted assets in the UK, Liechtenstein and the Bahamas.

All very admirable – but I wonder what will happen to the money when it gets back to Nigeria? The nation, to put it tactfully, doesn’t fare terribly well in Transparency International’s corruption league.

Perhaps the money will distract the 419 scammers for a while. It’s worth it for that alone.

Jon Ashworth is business features editor at The Times

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