The Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, has refused to approve the payment of $16.9 million dubious fees to two lawyers for the recovery of Abacha loot worth $321 million.
She has also written a strong-worded letter to President Muhammadu Buhari to raise objections to the payment following revelations on the suspected sleaze.
Meanwhile, TheCable has confirmed that the recovered sum has been repatriated to Nigeria by the Swiss government following the execution of the memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the two countries for the judicious use of the recovery.
“It is true that a request was made to the minister of finance for the payment to the Nigerian lawyers, but approval is another animal altogether,” a senior government official told TheCable at the weekend, adding that the request has been “sent back” to the ministry of justice.
Enrico Monfrini, a Swiss lawyer hired by the Nigerian government since 1999 to work on recovering Abacha loot, had finished the Luxembourg leg of the job since 2014 when Mohammed Bello Adoke was the attorney-general of the federation.
Monfrini had also been paid his fees by the federal government.
The recovered money was then domiciled with the attorney-general of Switzerland pending the signing of an MoU with Nigeria to avoid the issues of accountability around previous recoveries.
All that was left after the signing of the MoU was a government-to-government communication for the money to be repatriated to Nigeria.
However, Abubakar Malami, the minister of justice and attorney-general of the federation, had curiously engaged the services of another set of lawyers in 2016 for a fee of about N6 billion.
The Cable Newspaper Journalism Foundation (CNJF), a partner organisation to TheCable, then sent a freedom of information (FOI) request to Malami for a copy of the agreements that were reached with Monfrini for the recovery.
The terms in the agreement were clearly spelt out such that no other lawyer would be needed for the return of the money to Nigeria.
Malami refused to accede to the FOI request, but the Cable Foundation is currently in court to seek an order of mandamus to compel the attorney-general to make the documents public.
A recent article apparently sponsored to discredit TheCable alleged that Monfrini was asking for an additional 20 percent to “complete the job”.
Malami allegedly made a counter offer of five percent which Monfrini was said to have 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.
Incidentally, both lawyers had worked for President Muhammadu Buhari’s Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), a legacy party of the All Progressive Congress (APC).
Malami was the legal adviser of CPC.
In an email to TheCable, however, Monfrini explained that there is no truth in the allegation.
“I never had the audacity to claim for additional fees. This figure of 20% 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,” he said, adding that “any allegations against that would just be a lie.”
“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. I have no idea of the whereabouts of these $321 million.
“I know that they have been restituted to Nigeria by the Swiss government a few months ago. On the other hand, I don’t know why it took about three years for the two governments to agree that said restitution should be monitored by World Bank since this concept was created by me some 15 years ago.”