20 July 2018

Nigeria: Abacha Loot - Why Investigation Into Planned $17m Payment to Malami-Appointed Lawyers Delayed - Rep

Three months after the commencement of investigation into the request by Attorney-General Abubakar Malami for the payment of $17 million to two lawyers for their roles in the recovery of $321 million Abacha loot, the House of Representatives is yet to conclude investigation.

Reacting to controversial reports trailing Mr Malami's request for the payment to the two lawyers, Oladipo Okpeseyi, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), and Temitope Adebayo for their alleged roles in the said recovery, the House created an ad-hoc committee to investigate the controversies with a view to resolving them.

The committee, set up on April 12 following a motion by Mark Gbillah, was supposed to submit its report after six weeks from the day it was created.

When PREMIUM TIMES contacted Mr Gbillah for an update on the investigation on July 17, he responded in a text message saying the committee's hearing on the matter was postponed for various reasons till next week.

Mr Gbillah did not respond to further questions seeking clarifications on the new date for the conclusion of the investigations.

"There was a delay in obtaining requested info. from the international lawyers and a postponement of meetings because of the recent Salah break. The Committee was scheduled to have a hearing July 18 which has been postponed to next week because of the NASS open week," the lawmaker said.

The proposed payment triggered widespread controversies following reports by The Cable online newspaper that the lawyers were employed to perform roles already concluded by a Swiss lawyer Enrico Monfrini's law firm since 2014.

According to the paper, Mr Monfrini, who was employed by the federal government in 1999 to facilitate the return of the money completed the Luxemburg part of the job in 2014 and the money was domiciled with the office of the Attorney-General of Switzerland pending a Memorandum of Understanding which was meant to ensure that the money would not be misused by government.

That MoU was the only step necessary for the return of the money. It was also a role that required active involvement only by the offices of attorney-generals of both countries without help from private lawyers.

But in a curious development in 2016, Mr Malami employed the services of the two lawyers and defended his decision with a claim that Mr Monfrini made exorbitant requests for the payment of 20 per cent of the entire sum as compensation for completing the process.

Replying to Mr Malami's allegation, Mr Monfrini told the paper that he never demanded any payments from Mr Malami since he had received his remuneration long before Mr Malami assumed office.

"I never had the audacity to claim for additional fees. This figure of 20 per cent 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," Mr Monfrini said in an email forwarded to the Cable.

He added that the final steps necessary after Mr Malami's appointment did not require the involvement of private lawyers.

"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," Mr Monfrini said.

Corroborating the points made in previous publications regarding the matter, the Swiss Ambassador to Nigeria, Eric Mayoraz, during said during an interview with PREMIUM TIMES said 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," Mr Mayoraz said. He added that the precondition formed the basis for the MoU which was eventually signed before the final repatriation in 2017.

Speaking on the controversial appointment of the lawyers, the Chief Executive Officer of the Cable Foundation, Simon Kolawole, said although his company has filed a suit against the AGF on the matter, another court case would be instituted if the government goes ahead with the controversial payment.

"Monfrini was not forthcoming with responses to our inquiries. That was why we sent an FOI request to the AGF to get a copy of the agreement.

"It was when AGF's media consultants started lying against Monfrini that he eventually opened up. Actually he had finished the job. There was no need for lawyers again. All that was required was for the AGF to write to the Swiss AG to ask for the money. For this our own AGF engaged lawyers for $16.9 million!

"We found this appalling. Our position is that the lawyers should not be paid. We will see this to a logical conclusion. We are already in court seeking an order of mandamus to force the AGF to make the agreement public. If the government goes ahead and pays the lawyers, we will file another case. At the foundation, we are ready to see this to the very end. Justice has to be done," Mr Kolawole said.

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