Chibok Girls: How Swiss agent, govt officials stole millions of dollars

Barely ten months after the release of a batch of 82 of the abducted Chibok secondary school girls, investigation shows that the entire negotiations may have been nothing but a huge scam.

DAILY INDEPENDENT investigation that covered Nigeria, Switzerland, Chad, Niger and Cameroon has conclusively shown that Nigerian officials and Swiss agents involved in the clandestine talks to free the girls who were abducted from Borno State by the Boko Haram insurgents have turned the negotiations into an illicit goldmine of sort.

Remarkably, this offshore and on-shore investigation have rubbished claim by federal authorities that no ransom was paid to secure freedom for the two batches of the 276 abducted Chibok girls already released by Boko Haram as it has been proved that millions of dollars were actually paid to secure their release.

Most of all, DAILY INDEPENDENT sources uncovered the face behind the mask in the negotiations. He is Swiss Foreign Service agent, Pascal Holliger. But he is not alone as he has been working closely with some Nigerians and other foreigners in a labyrinthine way that reaches to other countries and involves various organisations. To give them an absolute cover of decency, the negotiations have been spearheaded by the Swiss government, ostensibly on humanitarian grounds.

Yet, as the whole process had been enmeshed in secrecy Red Cross, the only visible entity, has always insisted that its role was limited to mediation and confidence building “as a neutral intermediary and not involved in the negotiation” between the parties.

A thorough professional, Holliger graduated from the Institute of International Studies (IHEID), Geneva, Switzerland, under the tutelage of Jean Pierre Gontard, the renowned Swiss mediator with FARC (The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—People’s Army (Spanish: Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia). As a staff of the Swiss Foreign Ministry’s Human Security Division, Holliger’s intelligence journey started with his deployment in South Africa, where he established his two NGOs, IMBEWU and Latitudes, that are ostensibly engaged in humanitarian works; the first provides education to disadvantaged children while the second helps them become professionals.

But as Nigeria’s North East region gained international notoriety and significance on the global intelligence chessboard, Holliger was deployed to Nigeria as a political officer.

There is also an unsubstantiated claim that Holliger’s lobby in the country coincided with pressure on former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2014 to negotiate the release of the school girls from their captors.

Indeed, ransom payment to terrorists by governments all over the world have remained a recurring allegation, governments have officially denied such payment. The Nigerian government has been no different; it has always denied the payment of ransom to insurgent groups toward securing release of high profile captives like the Chibok girls, the reality is entirely a different proposition.

As a matter of fact since the abduction of the 276 Chibok girls from their school dormitories by Boko Haram in 2014, the saga has become a goldmine for different state and non-state actors with different motives, all looking for roles in the rescue of the girls.

Recall that President Goodluck Jonathan, under intense international pressure in the fall of 2014 sought the assistance of Chadian President Idris Derby to secure release of the abducted girls.

Armed with a war chest of $2 million, his Special Emissary, Ambassador Hassan Tukur, was confident of his mission to Ndjamena. That was until alleged political consideration got in the way, the belief that if successful, the mission would enhance chances of the incumbent leader in the 2015 general election among others.

This failed mission also trained international attention on Idris Derby as the intelligence community began to study him in great detail – because anybody that could undertake such a mission must have a relationship with the Boko Haram insurgents, the intelligence community reasoned.

Many of the intelligence reports have suggested that Derby has surprisingly close relationship with insurgents across the sub-region. But such allegations are hard to substantiate.

What made the difference though with the involvement of the Swiss is that they have often succeeded where others fail, an intelligence source told DAILY INDEPENDENT.

Holliger, in a bid to have a foot hold in the Nigerian North East, was said to have partnered the Saudis who already had an agent in Maiduguri, by name Zannah Mustapha.

A lawyer, Mustapha was running a private school in the Borno State capital — Future Prowess Islamic Foundation School. The school was established by International Islamic Relief Organisation (IIRO), Jeddah, which, surprisingly, is listed in U.S. States Department’s charity organisations with ties to terrorism.

Our source disclosed that Mustapha had a long standing relationships with Boko Haram leadership, as a member and strong sympathiser of the Salafi-Wahabbi group. Again, this allegation is hard to confirm as secrecy is the mainstay of the cloak and dagger world of espionage and counter-espionage.

The investigation showed that Holliger recruited Mustapha and sent him to Switzerland for training in the act of soft intervention in the world’s conflict zones.

At the completion of his training he returned to Nigeria, now to serve as a valuable asset in the negotiations.

Holliger did not stop there. According to a Senior Counter Intelligence Officer with National Intelligence Agency (NIA), who is vast in the intelligence game, “Holliger is an interesting character and very professional agent who exploits to the maximum and penetrated Nigerian political establishments at the highest level”.

It did not take much time for the Swiss to be on first name terms with presidency’s inner circle, Abba Kyari, Lawal Daura, the NSA DG and Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, DAILY INDEPENDENT gathered.

And to further gain their confidence, Holliger was said to have led a number of trips to his country in search of stolen funds that have links to Nigerian ex-officials, top of them the Abacha loot.

The bond among Holliger and the inner circle in Aso Villa is said to be so tight that national institutions like the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the NIA were kept in the dark about Chibok girls’ negotiations.

Not even Vice President Yemi Osinbajo was fully briefed on the details of the negotiations, our source claimed.

The investigation further showed that Holliger equally “enticed Nigerian officials with offers of discreet Swiss Coded Accounts and financial reward from the ransom money,” though no information emerged about who took the bait.

The intelligence source added that the Chibok girls and other cases of kidnapping for ransom in the region involving the Swiss and Nigerian government officials are at huge costs.

Unfortunately, the investigation did not unearth exactly how much was paid as ransom to secure the release of the 103 Chibok girls.

The Associated Press reported at the release of the 82 girls last year that “a ‘handsome ransom’ in millions of dollars was paid by Switzerland’s government on behalf of the Nigerian authorities. The Swiss would recoup the money from some $321 million it had said it would repatriate to Nigeria this year from frozen funds looted under former military dictator Sani Abacha.”

Our source at NIA claimed that the report was deliberate disinformation, purposely placed to deceive Nigerians. While corroborating the position that ransom was indeed paid, he expressed doubt if the ransom would not be paid in cash, as is the practice in intelligence circles, to avoid any trace of the operations.

He also joked that Boko Haram insurgents would hardly operate bank accounts.

“It is not true that the Swiss government will recoup from the looted funds. What happened is the agent, Holliger and his cohorts would collect the money in cash. The insurgents and their representatives cannot accept wired money or the deal would fail”, the source noted.

Aside the 82 girls released in May last year, 21 of the Chibok school girls had earlier regained their freedom to the delight of their parents, Nigerians and foreigners.

And only recently, similar meditation and negotiations were deployed to secure release of some abducted police women and University of Maiduguri lecturers held by two insurgent groups. While the Abubakar Shekau-led group allegedly released the ten policewomen, the UNIMAID lecturers where said to have been released by the Mamman Nur/Al-Barnawi group.

There is even a broadening suspicion within intelligence circles that the Chibok girls still in captivity may not be anywhere within the country’s borders, or Sambisa forest, already devastated through aerial bombardment by troops, but in a safe haven in a neighbouring country where they have become cash cow for some officials, working in concert with negotiators to squeeze scarce dollars from the government.

On the suspicion that the negotiators are just in it for the money our source said, “Also they cannot take millions of Euros to some bandits and terrorists without taking their cut. They have made the Chibok girls their cash cow; know this that all the talk of Swiss humanitarian offer is at a price. Also know that the Chibok girls are not under Shekau or any terrorist group. They are safe and secure: the Swiss, Chadians and Cameroonians know this”, he alleged.

A major question that has been asked is, ‘When did Switzerland become a major player in the global veil, cloak, and dagger business of international espionage?’

Most commentators wondered how Switzerland, a neutral country over the decades, which had avoided open participation in the Cold War, reintroduced itself into the hot nexus of international espionage such that it had affected events in several countries, including Nigeria, recently?

And then this question would follow: How did the Swiss agent, Pascal Holliger, penetrate into the highest echelon of power in Abuja?

Most people know Switzerland as a choice destination for laundered money, cocaine proceeds, blood money, and stolen patrimonies by rogue rulers and warlords.

Its most tainted clientele of high net-worth individuals would include Papa Doc, Mobutu Sese Seko, Pablo Escobar, Jean-Bedel Bokassa, Sani Abacha, Charles Taylor, Manuel Noriega, etc.

Switzerland, a small mountainous country located in Central Europe, is famed for its beauty, gothic architecture and ski.

The Alp high points and its ski resorts are winter lovers’ paradise. It is also home to many offshore companies, a tax haven, and private banking.

It has maintained neutrality since the 1815 Paris Treaty.

Navigating carefully during the Cold War years between NATO and Warsaw pact countries, its neutrality paid off; it was an enemy of none and a friend of all.

It had little or no role in global contest politics because of its foreign policy position as a neutral state.

Switzerland simply obeyed the Vienna Convention which specified the rules, privileges, conventions, immunity of diplomatic premises and diplomats.

Private diplomacy, on the other hand, is a complex relationship between international business, intelligence services, states and non-state actors, with the spirit of commerce and private enterprise as its guiding principles.

They are not governed by conventions or protocols and have no barriers.

They are independent and they operate on specific missions.

They act under terms and conditions of their clients in close collaborations with local elements who they largely recruit and are risk-averse.

Foreign agents would immerse themselves in their host communities and cultivate friendships and contacts across all segments of the society.

In the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin wall, the Swiss changed tactics and embraced private diplomacy.

The Swiss State, through its Foreign Ministry’s intelligence Department called Human Security Division, has perfected the art of self-insertion into world conflict zones such as Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Colombia, Uganda, Somalia, Burundi, CAR and … Nigeria.

They offer themselves as mediators or neutral interlocutors, emphasising the importance of dialogue, negotiation, mediation and humanitarian corridors between warring parties.

The actors are intelligence officials familiar with backdoor channel and veil.

They have sovereign state approval at the highest level. The Swiss have earned notoriety with elaborate secrecy in private banking, offshore company formation, fiduciary, wealth and asset management.

Such uncommon skills are now deployed as the delivery vehicle of Swiss private diplomacy.

In the last ten years, the Swiss have moved and situated themselves as neutral mediators in conflicts, sometimes indirectly, through their NGOs, like Humanitarian Dialogue.

For instance, in Columbia, on the 25th July, 2008, a Swiss mediator between FARC (The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—People’s Army, Spanish: Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) rebels and the Columbian government, Jean Pierre Gontard, became a money courier for FARC.

He paid S500, 000 and had the money transferred to Costa Rica. At that time Gontard had a strong cover; he was working as an academician at the Institute of International Studies (IHEID), Geneva, Switzerland, but was closely linked to the intelligence arm of Swiss Foreign Ministry, the Human Security Division.

His involvement in ‘mediation’ in Columbia was at the prompting of then French Interior Minister, Nicholas Sarkozy, to rescue FARC hostage, Ingrid Bentancourt, and other hostages held by FARC.

It was a complex operation involving the then French Foreign Minister, Dominique De Villepin, and former French Consul in Bogota, Noel Suez, resulting in the failed Operation 14 Juilliet.

The French paid ransom for the release of Betancourt through the Swiss, but an elaborate scenario was painted of gallant heroic Colombian Special Forces in a most daring rescue operation.

From Burundi, Sri Lanka, North Korea, South Sudan to Nigeria’s North-East, the Swiss Intelligence Service – through private diplomacy – has sought to intervene or offer themselves for mediation.

Their first mission failed woefully; they took Nigeria’s $2 million from former President Goodluck Jonathan, contacted the Chadian President, Idris Derby, who sent his Special Emissary, Ambassador Hassan Tukur, to Ndjamena to negotiate with Derby on how to secure the release of the girls.

As DAILY INDEPENDENT published on Wednesday, the money “was handed over to Derby by Ambassador Tukur, but he failed to deliver and thus denied Jonathan a vote-winning development that could have affected Nigeria’s presidential election of February, 2015.

North-Eastern Nigeria is the new battlefield of global intelligence game.

The Swiss partnered with the Saudis. They have an agent in place called Zannah Mustapha, a lawyer by profession, running a private school in Maiduguri — Future Prowess Islamic Foundation School — established by International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) Jeddah.

IIRO is listed in U.S. States Department’s charity organizations with ties to terrorism.

Mustapha has often been mentioned as having a relationship with Boko Haram leadership by several media houses, including the Wall Street Journal, and has been fingered to be a strong Salafi-Wahabbi sympathiser.

He was recruited by Pascal Holliger and sent to Switzerland for training. At the completion of his training, he was sent back to Nigeria.

Derby has been alleged to host families of top Boko Haram commanders, including Shekau, in his protective custody in Ndjamena; that is one way he remains on top of his game.

Pascal Holliger, upon graduating from the Institute of International Studies (IHEID), Geneva, Switzerland, under the tutelage of Jean Pierre Gontard, the Swiss mediator with FARC joined the Swiss Foreign Ministry’s Human Security Division.

Holliger’s intelligence journey started with his deployment in South Africa, where he established his two NGOs, IMBEWU and Latitudes.

From South Africa, Holliger was deployed to Nigeria as political officer.

According to Swiss’ RTS Radio Programme, Les Petits Matins on February 10, 2011, Holliger told the Radio Station that IMBWU NGO cares for some 2,500 children in South African township through sports, “but I am leaving the NGO to devote myself to ‘other challenges.”

The other challenges are to fit and blend into Nigeria’s political, cultural, economic and social environment. Now, he is on first name term with Aso Villa inner circle.

Now, the international security agencies have become alarmed by the fact that the National Intelligence Agency, or even the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, lost a chance in a million as institutions that could learn some lessons from the release of the Chibok girls’ negotiations and increase their institutional capacities thereafter.

Moreover, as the Federal Government paid 3 million Euros for the release of some Chibok schoolgirls who were in Boko Haram custody, it means that the once cash-strapped terror organisation has been given a new lease of life.

In 2014, Boko Haram insurgents had kidnapped 276 girls from Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, in Borno State.

Of the 276 kidnapped Chibok school girls, 163 are now free, and that include the 57 that escaped in the early days following the abduction; three escaped later, and a Swiss-mediated effort secured the release of 103.

Twenty-one of the 103 were freed on October 13, 2016, while the remaining 82 were freed on May 6 last year.

In a detailed report on the incident, the World Street Journal said while 1 million Euro was paid for the 21 first freed, additional 2 million Euro accompanied the five Boko Haram commanders that were exchanged with the next batch of 82 girls.

President Muhammadu Buhari was said to have been averse to any ransom payment to Boko Haram but was pressured by some members of his kitchen cabinet to soften his stance.

As learnt, he only accepted after he was assured that any more money paid to Boko Haram must form part of a comprehensive peace plan.

That peace plan never materialised; instead, a monetarily replenished Boko Haram has gone on the offensive again.

Also, as some of its top commanders were released from jail, the organisation regained some of its once lost strategic commanders.

Or as someone put it: “Since the insurgents collected their three million Euros, some Nigerian officials say an army that had struggled to feed itself seems replenished.”

Source: Daily Independent.

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