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$1bn: AGF Replies Whistleblower, Says Fee Can Only Be Paid After Recovery

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The Attorney-General of the Federation and minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN) has responded to recent allegation by a whistleblower, John Okupurhe, that the office of the AGF refused to pay him his fee after exposing over $1bn (N420bn) hidden in a bank.

The minister said the federal government only pays whistleblowers after a successful recovery of looted funds and not for mere tracing or exposure of suspected illegitimate funds.

He was reacting to a letter written by counsel to the whistleblower, Aliyu Lemu, purportedly written on June 22 on issues revolving around the payment of the acclaimed whistleblower’s fees.

In a statement by his special assistant on media and public relations, Dr Umar Gwandu, AGF Malami said  “The Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice wants to make it categorically clear that one does not get paid on account of exposing looted assets, but on successful recovery and lodgment of same into the designated assets recovery account at the Central Bank of Nigeria’’.

Gwandu said, “The Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice wants to make it categorically clear that one does not get payment on account of exposing looted assets, but on successful recovery and lodgment of same into the designated assets recovery account at the Central Bank of Nigeria,”

While reeling out the procedure for engagement of a whistleblower or recovery agent as it relates to the Office of the AGF, he added:

“A Proposal is submitted to the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation, a Letter of Engagement is issued to a whistleblower or recovery agent where the disclosure is assessed to have some prospects of success.

“The recovery agent or whistleblower is expected to notify in writing the acceptance of the engagement.

“The recovery agent or whistle-blower is expected, upon acceptance, to not only trace the assets but recover the same and have it deposited in a designated asset recovery account maintained by the federal government in the Central Bank which is usually provided to the recovery agent in writing.”

According to the AGF, where these funds are eventually claimed to have been lodged by a whistleblower or recovery agent, the Central Bank issues acknowledgment of receipt of the fund to the Office of Attorney-General on demand.

“It is the satisfaction of the above elements that entitles the whistle-blower or a recovery agent to a claim of the success fee and the payment is usually effected by the Federal Ministry of Finance and not the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation.

“The role of the Office of the Attorney-General, in essence, is simply that of processing the above-listed documents to the Ministry of Finance which is the ministry saddled with the responsibility of effecting payment.”

Malami explained further that recovery is not about exposing the existence of certain assets in an account purported to have belonged to an agency of the government.

“It is about establishing that the funds in the account are looted assets or illegitimately warehoused and following that up with actual recovery and lodgement of the funds in the designated Asset recovery account through judicial and extrajudicial means.

“Entitlement to recovery fees is for all intent and purposes contingent on lodgement of the purported/exposed assets constituting the subject of recovery into the Federal Government Recovery designated Account.

The whistle-blower had alleged that the account was secretly being operated by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to illegally collect revenue from vessels.

He said upon discovery, he informed the Office of the AGF of the secret account in line with the whistle-blower policy, and that an agreement was signed.

The agreement stated that Okpurhe would be entitled to a commission if the information provided turned out credible.

The whistle-blower said after playing his own part, the AGF’s office began to play games.

Meanwhile, a coalition of civil society organisations in the South South has threatened to sue the Federal Government over refusal to pay commission to the acclaimed whistleblowers The civil society organisations under the auspices of South South Anti-Corruption Watchdog (SACW) vowed to ensure Okupurhe gets justice and those behind the hidden cash are exposed. National Coordinator of SACW, Prince Kokori Edjegba, said it was shocking to aides of President Mohammadu Buhari making mockery of his administration anti-corruption fight. Prince Edjegba noted that if accounts of Okupurhe were true the Nigeria government ought to have played its part by paying him for exposing hidden funds.

Edjegba stated that ridiculing Okupurhe good work would prevent others from coming forward with authentic information about stolen cash or exposing corruption in public service.

He said it was wrong for the AGF’s office to allow the issue gets to the public because it might expose Okupurhe to unnecessary danger.

Part of the letter written by Okupurhe’ lawyer and dated June 22, 2020 reads: “Pursuant to the whistleblower policy of the Federal Government, our client approached the Office of the AGF with confidential information in respect of hidden public funds concealed in a commercial bank in Lagos contrary to the Treasury Single Account policy which requires all public revenue or funds to be domiciled in the Central Bank of Nigeria.

“Our client presented the Office of the AGF with qualifying information on a cloned account with the Nigerian Ports Authority  which was being used to illegally collect revenue from vessels by the  signatories who are no longer in the service of the NPA”.

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