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Abacha Loot: $17M Legal Fee And Integrity Test

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On July 6, 2017, the Attorney General of the Federation and the Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN) filed a suit before FCT High Court against TheCable Newspaper for alleging that he short-changed the country by obtaining $17 million out of the $321.5 million Abacha loot recently repatriated to Nigeria as legal fees for some lawyers, which the online medium described as ‘his boys’.
Malami could as have ignored the online publications except that the National Assembly relied on the claims and summoned him to clear the air on the matter during which he was called unprintable names and his reputation and office disparaged.
Consequently, AGF has asked the Court to make an order to stop the online newspaper and its publisher from further spreading false, malicious and biased information against him and his office and compel them to pay him and his office General damages of N5 billion.
In the suit with reference NO: FCT/HC/CV/ /2018, Malami wants the court to also compel the newspaper and its publisher to take off the offending material from TheCable website and server as well as a perpetual injunction against further publication of such defamatory mess.
The Cable Newspaper had in an article published on December 22, 2017 titled, ‘’EXCLUSIVE: Sleaze hits $321m Abacha loot recovery as Malami creates ‘job for the boys’’ alleged that the celebrated imminent repatriation of $321 million stolen by Sani Abacha, former military ruler, has run into a storm with suspicious moves that may amount to “re-looting the loot” through the backdoor.

The online paper stated that, ‘’The Nigerian lawyers, Oladipo Okpeseyi, a senior advocate, and Temitope Isaac Adebayo, were engaged in 2016 apparently to duplicate the job of the Swiss lawyers and get their own cut from the already done deal. Incidentally, Okpeseyi and Adebayo were lawyers to the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), the legacy party of President Muhammadu Buhari. Malami was legal adviser to CPC’’.
By April 9 this year, the Federal Government announced the receipt of $322.51 million from the Swiss Government as part of looted funds recovered from former Head of State, late General Sani Abacha.

After the repatriation, Malami was said to have requested for the payment of $16.9 million (N6 billion) which he allegedly said was for the two lawyers hired to complete the legal works of the Abacha loot recovery. The Minister of Finance Kemi Adeosun was said to have rejected the approval of $16.9 million on the grounds that it was questionable fees. According to The Cable, the minister also wrote a strong-worded objection letter to President Muhammadu Buhari over the payment following alleged revelations of suspected corruption.
Adeosun however denied objecting to payment of the legal fee to the two lawyers that recovered Abacha funds. ‘’We wish to state that the sum of 322,515,931.83 dollars was received into a Special Account in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) on Dec. 18, 2017 from the Swiss Government. I had at no time written any letter to the President or any member of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) on the payment of lawyers for the Abacha recovery’’.

Ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo had engaged Enrico Monfrini, a Swiss lawyer in 1999 to trace, confiscate and repatriate looted Nigerian funds kept in coded accounts by Abacha. But the current government had claimed that from 1999 up until 2016 when it disengaged Monfrini, the Swiss had turned the repatriation into a slush fund in service of a cartel. The government justified the sacking of Monfrini saying the successive AGFs since 1999 shrouded in secrete the regime of payments made to the Swiss lawyer. The wish-hush in the government circle is that this administration does not have any document or correspondence in which Monfrini indicated the specific amount he had received from the Nigerian government as professional (legal) fees for all of 16 years.

It was alleged also, though without proof of evidence to support the claim, that Monfrini reapplied for the job at the inception of the Buhari administration, he had requested for payment of a minimum of 20 per cent on the value of $322.5 million as his professional fees and $2 million as deposit on account.
In contrast, Okpeseyi and Adebayo that were engaged agreed to 5% ($16.9 million) on the value of the money without any deposit on account. It was further claimed that the duo indeed completed the process that led to the eventual repatriation of the fund which had been lying idle in Switzerland since 2014 when the former AGF Mohammed Adoke (SAN) instructed the Attorney General of Geneva, Mr. Olivier Jornol, to make some deductions from source. About $60 million from the tranche of $380 million was deducted from source allegedly to pay Monfrini and to settle other obligations. The deductions had brought down the money to $321 million, which later recorded an accretion of about $1.5 million in interest that raised the money to $322.5 million. If this government had not terminated not Monfrini’s contract, they said the country would have instead paid 20% (representing about $64.5 million) of $322.5 million as legal fees to the Swiss.

According to TheCables, after a successful negotiation by Monfrini, the recovered money was domiciled with the Attorney-General of Switzerland pending the signing of an MoU with Nigeria to avoid the issues of accountability that trailed previous recoveries. And that at this point, the services of lawyers were no longer needed as all that was left after the signing of the MoU was a government-to-government communication for the money to be repatriated to Nigeria, but Malami, later engaged the services of another set of lawyers – Okpeseyi and Adebayo in 2016 for a fee of about N6 billion (16.9 million dollars), thereby sparking off controversy.
TheCable had reported that Monfrini, however, denied the allegations that he asked for 20%. “I never had the audacity to claim for additional fees. This figure of 20% is simply invented. I didn’t reject any proposal made by Mr. Malami since my fees were already paid a long time before Mr. Malami’s appointment as attorney general,” Monfrini said in an email sent to The Cable.
“The repatriation of the $321 million was not completed by me. It’s a matter which is normally dealt between governments and which doesn’t entail the engagement of lawyers. I have no idea of the whereabouts of these $321 million.

“I know that they have been restituted to Nigeria by the Swiss government a few months ago. On the other hand, I don’t know why it took about three years for the two governments to agree that said restitution should be monitored by World Bank since this concept was created by me some 15 years ago.”
However, the Swiss Ambassador to Nigeria, Eric Mayoraz, during an interview with an online media recently also claimed that the Attorney-General of Geneva took a final decision on the repatriation in 2014.
“The Attorney-General of Geneva did the final decision, I think in 2014. There was a ruling by the AG in Geneva that the money is ready to be delivered to Nigeria, with the condition that the money will not be diverted. The precondition formed the basis for the MoU which was eventually signed before the final repatriation in 2017’’, Mayoraz was quoted as saying.
According to a report credited to ‘’AljazirahNigeria’’, “Upon the confirmation and eventual recovery of the $322m the job of the Swiss lawyer ended, but the money was not paid to the Nigerian government. The problem was that the Nigerian side did not take time to study the agreement properly. The money was thus lodged into the Swiss government account, awaiting the MoU from the Nigerian government.
‘’ However Monfrini was promptly paid, along with the Abacha family lawyer. While Monfrini got about $30m, the Abacha family lawyer got about $17m, but the money was not paid to the Nigerian’’.

In other words, while Monfrini and others had been paid, the said loot never got to Nigeria before the coming into power by President Buhari. Of course, the initial moves by the Jonathan administration to recover the loot failed until the Abacha family signed a mutual legal agreement on July 14, 2014. But the agreement stated that once the money is forfeited, that Monfrini and others be paid. This was as contained in Article 5 of the 2014 repatriation agreement between Federal Republic of Nigeria, and the Abacha family. So once the money was forfeited, and Monfrini was paid, he abandoned the process, not following up with the process until the Nigerian government got its share.
Perhaps, this was where these new lawyers came into the picture. Since Buhari was interested in recovering the loot, the AGF has to uncover why the money was hanging, which also led to the hiring of the services of a fresh set of lawyers to trace the money which had been recovered but yet to get to Nigeria.
Okpeseyi and Adebayo were engaged vide a letter dated January 15, 2016. According to some reports, they then contacted and engaged their associates in Geneva, through those lawyers, they were able to trace the Luxemburg funds as it was initially referred to, until the point where all the other parties were paid, over 50million dollars, remaining only the Nigerian government. Now the funds were traced and eventually repatriated to Nigeria.

Following TheCables report, alleging sleaze in the proposed payment of $17m to Okpeseyi and Adebayo, the House of Representatives constituted an ad-hoc committee on April 12, 2018 to investigate the allegations. The panel which was had six weeks to submit its finding didn’t do so until the Reps went on vacation last month.
According to TheCables, AGF has resorted to delay tactics to frustrate House of Representatives’ investigation by refusing to provide the documents requested by the ad-hoc committee in addition to expected claim by him that the case is already before the court; and therefore subjudice for the committee to continue with its probe.
According to the online newspaper, Malami adopted a similar tactic in the probe of the recall of Abdulrasheed Maina, the former chairman of the Pensions Task Force when he went to court to stop legislative inquiry into the saga.

AGF Malami has asked the FCT High Court to declare articles published by TheCable online newspaper titled ‘Exclusive: Sleaze hits $321m Abacha loot recovery as Malami creates ‘job for the boys’, Abacha Loot: Adeosun blocks $17m dubious payment to Malami’s lawyers’ and Exclusive: US blocks Malami’s lawyers from taking a cut on $500m Abacha Loot’ on December 22, 2017, April 9, 2018 and May 7, 2018 respectively as defamatory against him.
While Malami listed ‘’The Cable Newspaper Limited’’ and Simon Kolawole as the 1st and 2nd defendants respectively, he also listed AGF and himself as the 1st and 2nd claimants, stating that ‘’the 1st Claimant is the Office of the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice. He is the Chief Law Officer of the Federation.
In suit filed on his behalf by Ade Okeaya-Inneh (SAN), Malami asked the court further to make perpetual injunction restraining the Defendants either by themselves, agents, servants, privies or through any other person(s) from further writing or publishing the said or similar words against or in respect of the Claimants.
Malami avers that he has no interest whatsoever in the appointment of the two Nigerian lawyers: Messers Dipo Okpeseyi & Co (SAN) and Messers Tope Adebayo LLP (recovery agents) were duly appointed by the federal government as recovery agents vide a letter with Ref. No: HAGF/REC/2016/VOL.1/2 and power of attorney dated 6th January, 2016 for the repatriation of the General Abacha loot stashed in foreign jurisdictions after an objective consideration of their application for offer of service as recovery agents dated 24th December, 2015
. The minister states that following their appointments the recovery agents made several trips to London, Jersey and Switzerland and after series of negotiations the sum of $321 Million including interests thereon was repatriated back to Nigeria.

He insisted he does not have any pecuniary interest whatsoever in the professional fees which the recovery agents are entitled to from their services.
This is just as he draws attention to the fact that prior to the appointment of the recovery agents, Mr. Enrico Monfrini a Swiss National who was previously appointed to conduct the recoveries did not serve the interests of the country ostensibly because he received his professional fees upfront and years before his principal, the Federal Government got her proceeds from the engagement.
Malami insisted that the three false and defamatory articles Simpon Kolawole published on his online news platform on December 22, 2017, April 9, 2018 and May 7, 2018 has exposed him to ridicule, hatred and contempt from his associates, colleagues and constituents.
’By the said publication the Defendants insinuated that the Claimants needlessly but mischievously engaged two (2) Nigerian Lawyers to dubiously duplicate the purported efforts of some Swiss Lawyers; that the Claimants purportedly re-looted the Abacha loot by engaging the two lawyers, and that he Malami was a corrupt public official when they attached his Photograph to the disparaging publication with a sub-caption ‘the looting machine’.
Consequently, Malami asked the court to make an order compelling Simon Kolawole and his online newspaper to pay him the sum of N5 Billion as general damages for the injury to reputation of office of the AGF and accompanying consequential psychological and mental tortures/stress suffered by him from the Defendants’ defamation.
‘’By the defamatory publications the integrity of the office of the 1st Claimant (AGF) and the person of the 2nd Claimant (Malami) has been lowered both locally and in the comity of nations the recovered Abacha loot of $321 Million having been recovered from a foreign land’’, Malami claimed.
Malami’s libel suit was not assigned to any judge before the court went on annual vacation.
The exact amount of money looted by the late former Head of State, General Sani Abacha remains unknown as the amount continues to stagger and this may be due the fact that the governments of some countries where the monies are stashed have remained tight-lipped or frustrated efforts of the Nigerian government to recover the loot.
No one could ever say how much was stashed abroad by the late General Sani Abacha, except that it was reported to be between $2 billion and $5 billion.
Ironically, one of the countries that has obliged Nigeria in its quest to recover its stolen funds is Switzerland, a country that is notorious for holding wealth of corrupt individuals globally in strict confidentiality.
So far, Switzerland has reportedly repatriated all the Abacha loot deposited in Swiss banks. It was reported that $700 million was first repatriated to Nigeria, while the last tranche in the sum of $322 was returned in December, 2017.
It will be recalled that the Swiss Ambassador to Nigeria, Eric Mayoraz, a forum on Asset Recovery organised by the Swiss Embassy in Abuja, informed that as at 2012, a total of $722 million of the Abacha family money hidden in Switzerland had been repatriated.
Mayoraz was quoted as saying that an additional $322 million which was frozen by the Swiss Attorney-General, was repatriated in December, 2017.
But while the recovery of this loot are delightful, their utilisation remains a source of concern to both local and foreign observers who worry that it might end up in the pockets of a few.



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