by Femi Owolabi
Enrico Monfrini, the Swiss lawyer hired by Nigeria to recover Abacha Loot, says Abubakar Malami, the attorney-general of the federation (AGF), is trying to change the facts on the $321 million recovered from Luxembourg.
TheCable had reported how Malami engaged Oladipo Okpeseyi and Temitope Adebayo, two Nigerian lawyers, for a fee of $17 million (about N7 billion) to do a job already completed by Monfrini.
In an interview with New Telegraph on August 26, Malami, questioning the services of Monfrini, alleged that the Jonathan administration agreed to pay Monfrini 20 to 30 percent as his fees before the final repatriation of the money to Nigeria— an idea the AGF said the Buhari administration frowns at.
“And he was indeed paid an amount which was not clear as to the concept and extent of what services he rendered whether this $321 million was part of his facilitation. But a point of interest is that as at the time this government came in the $321 million was not paid by the Swiss government,” Malami said in the interview.
Speaking with TheCable, however, Monfrini, a world renowned lawyer, said Malami has chosen to publicly make allegations and statements which tend to smear his reputation.
“I read the content of the article published by the New Telegraph on 26 August 2018 in which Mr. Malami is trying through lengthy statements to get people to believe different facts which are, to say the least, untrue,” he said.
Before President Muhammadu Buhari came into office, the Swiss lawyer said he had never heard of any professional fees “of 10 to 20 per cent” paid to lawyers.
“As far as I am concerned, my fees were always fixed at 5% or most of the time substantially lower. If one comes to the matter of the $ 321,000,000, I want to strongly stress the fact that this money was not what Mr. Malami calls ‘part of my facilitation’.
It was money which had illegally been received by some members of the Abacha Family which I had started to search as of September 1999, found through researches operated by my firm and myself in Luxembourg in 2000, frozen in said country thanks to my intervention and finally forfeited thanks to my intervention in Switzerland in December 2014. I do not consider that all the enormous work invested by my firm and myself in this matter could possibly be quoted as a ‘facilitation’,” he said.
‘NO NEED TO PAY LAWYERS AGAIN’
Malami, in the interview, said Monfrini was considered to be among others for the recovery of the $321 million but he was asking for 20-30 percent as against the conventional five percent approved by the federal government. He said he had, however, convinced Buhari on a 10 to 15 percent pay for the Swiss lawyer but Monfrini rejected, insisting on 20 to 30 percent cut — which the president was not going to approve.
“It was against this background that a consortium of lawyers of Nigerian origin now submitted their proposals and we accepted their letters and they swung into action,” he said, adding that he had already proposed to the ministry of finance for the Nigerian lawyers to be paid a five percent cut from $321 million.
But Monfrini insisted he had already completed this job and his fees, in about 20 years recovering Abacha Loot, was around five percent.
“I sternly deny having ever asked Mr. Malami or any other public Officers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to pay me anything more than the 5 % I was entitled to,” he told TheCable.
“I also have to repeat that the payment of my fees [happened] in December 2014 upon receipt by the Geneva Attorney General of $321,000,000 paid by the government of Luxembourg thanks to my intervention.
“It’s equivalently false to state, as Mr. Malami does, that at the time this government came in, the $321,000,000 was not paid by the Swiss Government as it was the subject of judicial pending before a court and to write that this situation was ‘the crux of the matter’ is so untrue that it becomes laughable.
“The truth is that the money was available to the government of Nigeria as early as December 2014 and as I said before, the matter for which Mr. Malami chose to appoint two new Nigerian lawyers for fees exceeding $ 17,000,000 [could have been done] in writing a letter to the Geneva Attorney General or to the government of Switzerland requesting the money to be paid back to Nigeria. Again, such an activity is not to be developed by lawyers but only through diplomatic consultations between States.”
In April, Monfrini had denied asking for additional fees when a syndicated article in Nigerian media sought to justify the duplication of his job by Malami.
Cable Newspaper Journalism Foundation (CNJF), a partner organisation with TheCable, for eight months, has continually written the AGF, seeking information and documents on the recovery of $321 million but the AGF is yet to respond.
CNJF has gone to court, seeking an order of mandamus compelling the AGF to make available the information and documents requested from its office pursuant to the freedom of information (FoI) act 2011.
TheCable had also asked the AGF what the newly engaged lawyers did to merit N7 billion.
The only time he responded to TheCable’s email enquiry, Malami said, “I am not ready to make any comments on my private email over the matter.”
The house of representatives has described the engagement of new lawyers for an already completed job as height of injustice. An ad-hoc committee was set up to look into the matter, but Malami resorted to delay tactics to frustrate the investigation .
Incidentally, Okpeseyi and Adebayo were lawyers to the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), the legacy party of President Buhari, while Malami was legal adviser.
“Well, the truth of the matter is a relationship between the lawyers and I exist. There is no doubt about that,” Malami disclosed in the interview with New Telegraph.
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