Nigerian lawyer, Mr Temitope Adebayo, has maintained that his team actually recovered the sum of $321m stashed away by former dictator, General Sani Abacha.
Mr Adebayo was speaking to online news medium, The Cable, in respect of claims that the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) had planned to pay the sum of N7 billion to some Nigerian lawyers for recovering the Abacha loot whereas a Swiss lawyer, Enrico Monfrini had already completed the task prior to 2015 and was paid his commission.
Defending the role played by his team, Adebayo said:
“When the money was transferred from Luxembourg to Switzerland, it was blocked in an account in Geneva under the control of the Geneva prosecutor. The Geneva prosecutor had been waiting for a letter from Monfrini confirming the agreement of the BIS to receive the money, and this letter never came. I understand the money was therefore transferred to the federal authorities in Bern. The Geneva prosecutor lost control of the money,” Adebayo quoted from an email they received from a senior lawyer whom he said they hired to work with them.
He said they wrote a letter confronting the Swiss government, asking why the Swiss involved, Monfrini inclusive, have been paid their fees and the balance hadn’t been returned to Nigeria.
“When they saw that letter, initially they didn’t respond, and we sent via email and they responded that we should meet them in Geneva. We travelled there, and when they saw the level of seriousness and the way things were going, they quickly rushed to Nigeria to sign letter of intent that they want to pay the money,” he said.
Adebayo explained that the federal government needed money and they couldn’t understand Monfrini again.
“He had collected his fees and was no longer interested in what’s to be repatriated to Nigeria,” he said.
“We are Nigerians and we have a stake in this country. We have an emotional connection to the case more than the Swiss. He could afford to keep the money in Geneva and it would be helping their economy. The money could be lost, but we can’t afford it to be lost.
“To let you see that these guys were not eager to release the fund, when we got involved and the letter of intent was signed, it still took them more than a year and a half for them to release the money to Nigeria. We got on the work in 2016, and the money came in in December 2017.”
The Nigerian lawyer argued that they were the ones who did the recovery — even though they only came into the picture two years after the funds had been recovered from various accounts and domiciled with the AG of Switzerland.
“You put money where your client cannot access it, is that recovery? Recovery is bringing it back to the owner. You have to follow the process through. As a recovery lawyer, we tie all loose ends to ensure money reaches destinations. Recovery is not complete until the owner gets his money. You said you’ve recovered and three years after you are still looking at the money far off?” he said.
Adebayo maintained that they didn’t duplicate Monfrini’s job, and that the Swiss lawyer lost control after the negoatiation that led to the release of the money from Luxembourg to Geneva.
“We traced the money to Bern. We were the ones who gave that information. At the time we were applying for the job, everybody thought the money was in Geneva. We were the one that confirmed to the federal government that the attorney-general of Geneva had transferred it to Bern. We caused a letter of demand to be written to them where we made them to realise the illogicality of holding on to the money, and we began to follow that process through.
“When this government came on board, it got itself dedicated to getting our looted funds back to the coffers of the federal government. And as a result of that, they invited people that knew about where Nigeria’s monies were all over the world to come with information, especially lawyers, and to come with application to help in repatriating the funds.”
He added that he and Mr Oladipo Okpeseyi, before then, had been engaging some lawyers in the UK who told them that some of the Abacha loot were still stashed all over.
“So we applied as Nigerian lawyers, asking for instruction to pursue this thing. We asked for deposit on account so we can have money to run around, but the president refused. Unlike what they did with Monfrini, they used to give them a million or $2 million dollars deposit on account, and normally that should be the practice. The president said no, that the lawyers should go and look for money, and despite raising money for themselves, they won’t take more than 5% from the recovered fund. Foreign lawyers, in this kind of recovery normally take between 20-30%, but this government said they won’t pay more than 5%.”
On January 6, 2016, the lawyers got the letter of instruction and power of attorney for the repatriation of the money.
“They gave us the brief and I persuaded my partner who was worried about us not ending up incurring liabilities in the case government changes and or something else happens. I pleaded with him for us to go and raise the money and we approached litigation funders in the UK to fund the entire process,” he said.
He said they couldn’t come to an agreement with litigation funders who were ready to provide $2 million but would take a 10% cut from the recovered money, and they resorted to taking loans to do the job.
“The federal government’s decision to take it from Monfrini and give to us was because of Mofrini’s seeming non-commitment to the final repatriation,” he said.
“Monfrini was the one who was advising the federal government in respect of these funds before. When the Luxembourg fund was about to be released, he was the one that advised Adoke in 2014 to write a letter detailing deductions to be made. As an expert in the field, he knew that the money was going to be withheld, shouldn’t he have advised Adoke on this? He gave impression to the government that the money would be paid simultaneously. And that was what made Adoke sign that letter.”
He said Monfrini wasn’t the “almighty tracking the money”, that a panel set up by Abdulsalami Abubakar, former military ruler, had investigated and found where the monies stolen by Abacha family were.
“And when Monfrini says the remaining thing is just government to government, he should know everything in asset recovery is always government to government,” Adebayo said.
“What lawyers do is to advise the government. We advised the government to send out mutual legal assistance (MLA) letters to all the jurisdictions the money went. It’s government power that you can use to trace money in bank. The monies in Luxembourg were forfeited through the activities of the canton of Geneva.
“What Monfrini did was a watching brief. Being the agent of the Nigerian government, he was writing letters and facilitating meetings.”
For about seven years, Adebayo said, there were no activities on this matter.
“I think one of the reasons the AGF ended Monfrini’s service was because, when they got their own percent of the money, they abandoned Nigeria,” he said.
“Monfrini is a Swiss citizen. The money had come into their country, our AGF (Adoke) wrote them, release money to this number of people and the balance, credit our BIS account, but they withheld the money for three years, and we are now saying the new AGF should still retain the same person to continue to advise Nigerian government?”
When they were negotiating the agreement, Adebayo alleged that Monfini’s plan was that all these monies should first go to the USA and then the USA decides whether it would give it to Nigeria or not. In 2012, he alleged Monfrini had sent an MLA to the USA, and in 2014 the Abacha family agreed for the repatriation of the money to Nigeria.
“When the negotiation was going on, Monfrini wanted to get a clause on the agreement that they will not disallow USA from having direct repatriation of those funds in those jurisdictions but the Abacha family said no, insisting money must go to Nigeria. Grudgingly, he accepted. And that was what led to the agreement— that the money should go back to Nigeria,” he said.
Adebayo added that despite helping Nigeria to recover the money, they are still waiting and yet to be paid.
“Not a kobo has been paid us,” he said.
“We agreed that we would be paid when the money is recovered. When the money was recovered, we applied to the government for our payments and this was transmitted to the ministry of finance, and we are still waiting,” he said.
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