Nigerian lawyers freshly engaged by the Federal Government to help with the repatriation of $321 million stolen by former military ruler, Sani Abacha, will be paid $17 million (over N6 billion) for their services.
This amount is nearly thrice what was already paid to Swiss lawyer, Enrico Monfrini, for the same job which he was yet to complete before Nigeria mysteriously decided to engage the services of another set of lawyers.
Attorney-General, Abubakar Malami, suddenly appointed Oladipo Okpeseyi, a senior advocate, and Temitope Isaac Adebayo, in 2016 apparently to duplicate the job of the Swiss lawyer.
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 the party.
“We understand the new lawyers are going to be paid $17 million but we are monitoring the situation closely,” an official of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) told TheCable.
“If a case of duplication is established, there will be consequences. This government takes the anti-graft war as a priority, as you well know, and this particular transaction is of interest to us.”
Monfrini was initially engaged by the Nigerian government in 2000 and has worked in the recoveries since then.
The federal government had, between 2013 and 2014, used the services of the Swiss lawyer to recover the funds in Luxembourg.
The monies were then domiciled with the attorney-general of Switzerland, awaiting onward transfer to Nigeria under a strict agreement to avoid “misappropriation” as was the allegation about previous recoveries.
In documents, the Swiss lawyer was given briefs and payment terms to cover the entire recovery process — up to the return of the monies to Nigeria.
Under the agreement, Nigeria undertook to pay 4 per cent of the recovered Luxemburg assets as professional fees and expenses to Monfrini, in addition to roughly $6.8 million in fees for the $250 million Liechtenstein recoveries.
Working with Mohammed Bello Adoke, who was Nigeria’s attorney-general at the time, the lawyer traced about $321 million worth of Abacha loot to Luxembourg which was recovered.
The federal government did not repatriate the funds until Jonathan left power in 2015.
However, a letter of intent was signed by Nigeria and Switzerland in March 2016 under the new Nigerian attorney-general to ensure the restitution.
Malami and Swiss Foreign Minister, Didier Burkhalter, signed the document on behalf of both governments.
The Cable Foundation, a partner organisation of TheCable newspaper, is currently in court to seek an order of mandamus compelling the AGF to release the details of the repatriation agreements with the lawyers.
Monfrini has refused to take further questions from TheCable after initially saying he did not know why Nigeria engaged the services of other lawyers.
The Cable Foundation has written to the attorney-general of Switzerland for further information on the role of Monfrini who might have been fully paid for a job he did not complete.