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Nigeria forming agency to manage seized cash and property

ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigeria plans to form an agency to manage the hundreds of millions of dollars in assets seized domestically or returned from abroad following anti-corruption probes, the justice minister said on Wednesday.

The oil-producing nation has repatriated more than $300 million this year that officials determined were the proceeds of corruption. Last year, it seized $40 million worth of jewellery and a gold iPhone from a property in Nigeria belonging to a former oil minister.

The anti-graft agency in the past has also seized an ill-gotten apartment block and other real estate.

Justice Minister Abubakar Malami said the plan would create a one-stop shop to manage seized assets in an open and accountable way.

Malami called the plan the “next level of transparency,” and said the agency could also give the Finance Ministry a budget for recovered assets.

Nigeria has struggled for decades with endemic corruption, and U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley raised concerns this year about the return of money due to worries over whether there were “proper safeguards to prevent the further misuse of funds.”

Currently, seized or returned cash and assets go to whichever agency got them, be it the police, state security service or the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.

In July, Nigeria suspended the EFCC chief after the justice minister accused the agency of diverting funds that had been recovered during investigations into graft.

Reporting by Felix Onuah; Writing by Libby George; Editing by Peter Cooney