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30 April 2018
On June 8 1998 the head of state, General Sani Abacha, died in circumstances that have never been publicly disclosed. According to Wikipedia, Abacha may have been "executed extrajudicially by way of being poisoned by political rivals via prostitutes".(1) Abacha was succeeded by General Abdulsalaam Abubakar, who oversaw elections that resulted in the transfer of power to General Olusegun Obasanjo, who won the presidential election on the Peoples' Democratic Party's ticket. On May 29 1999 Obasanjo was sworn in as president. One of the first actions that his administration took was to recover monies amassed in various jurisdictions by Abacha, members of his family and persons close to them.
According to media reports, Obasanjo's government engaged the services of a Geneva-based Swiss law firm led by Enrico Monfrini, now of counsel at Monfrini Bitton Klein. The efforts of Monfrini and his firm resulted in significant success, with the tracing, freezing and recovery of more than $1.3 billion, most of which was returned to the government.
According to recent media reports, among the monies traced and frozen due to Monfrini's efforts was $321 million located in Luxembourg. This sum had been successfully frozen for Nigeria's benefit in 2014 and transferred to the Swiss government's custody. According to a member of the House of Representatives, Mark Gbillah, all that was required for the money to be repatriated to Nigeria was the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the Swiss and Nigerian governments, an exercise that did not require the Nigerian government to enlist the services of external counsel. Nonetheless, Nigeria's federal attorney general engaged local lawyers to assist in effecting the release of the funds and reportedly agreed to pay them $16.9 million for their services. Neither of the two lawyers engaged appear to have had any experience or expertise in cross-border asset tracing and recovery. Further, their only qualification to have received the instructions was alleged to have been that they had both worked with the attorney general while he was legal adviser to President Buhari's Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). The CPC was one of the political parties that merged to form the All Progressives Congress, under which Buhari fought and won elections in 2015.
According to a report in Vanguard on April 5 2018:
"[The] Federal Government had engaged another set of Nigerian lawyers for a fee of $17 million (about N6 billion) for a job already completed by Monfrini. Malami [the federal attorney general] allegedly made a counter offer of five per cent, which Monfrini rejected, and this reportedly prompted Malami to engage the services of two Nigerian lawyers — Oladipo Okpeseyi, a senior advocate of Nigeria, SAN, and Temitope Adebayo. Monfrini, in an email message, yesterday, however, explained that there was no truth in the allegation. 'I am not asking any additional fees from the Federal Republic of Nigeria in respect of funds, which I have recovered on behalf of the latter during the last 20 years,' he said. According to him, the allegations 'would just be a lie'."
Quoting from a report in The Cable, Vanguard continued that the recovered monies had been "kept in the custody of the attorney-general of Switzerland, awaiting final return to Nigeria", and that Monfrini "did not know why Nigeria decided to appoint other lawyers." Monfrini was reported to have said that "upon the election of President Buhari, the newly appointed Minister of Justice and Attorney-General, Malami, appeared to prefer using the services of other lawyers in Nigeria and elsewhere".
According to Vanguard, a senior federal ministry of justice official had told TheCable that "this is a case of re-looting Abacha loot" and that:
"[A] simple letter from the office of our Attorney-General of the Federation to the Swiss Attorney-General requesting the repatriation of the funds to Nigeria consequent upon the signing of an MoU was all that was required to consummate the deal. From nowhere, Malami went and appointed another set of lawyers to do his job for him, and for few million dollars too."
Vanguard went on to report that TheCable had, by way of the Freedom of Information Act, applied for a court order compelling the federal attorney general to release the details of the repatriation agreements with the lawyers.(2)
On April 13 2018 This Day reported that the House of Representatives had passed a resolution on April 12 2018 requesting Buhari to suspend the payment of the $16.9 million pending investigation of the matter.
This is just one in a series of embarrassing situations involving members of Buhari's government, which was elected following a strong commitment to anti-corruption. Recent allegations of corruption have involved:
Allegations of misconduct by other senior members of the administration have resulted in no action being taken to establish whether such allegations are true. In addition, neither the former secretary to the federal government nor the director general have been charged with an offence or faced any penalties other than dismissal. Consequently, it is widely believed that even if the allegations involving the attorney general are correct, no action will be taken by the government.
For further information on this topic please contact Babajide Oladipo Ogundipe at Sofunde Osakwe Ogundipe & Belgore by telephone (+234 1 462 2502) or email (email@example.com). The Sofunde Osakwe Ogundipe & Belgore website can be accessed at www.sooblaw.com.
(1) Further information is available here.
(2) Further information is available here.
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