Abacha Loot: HOR probe AGF over N6bn legal fee

The House of Representatives has waded into the controversy trailing the recovery of funds looted by the late head of state, Gen. Sani Abacha, from the Swiss government.

It appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari to stop the planned payment of $16.9 million (N6billion) to lawyers which allegedly handled the matter by the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mallam Abubakar Malami (SAN).

The House said that suspension of the payment should hold it ends the investigation of the role of the AGF in the curious transaction.

At its plenary on Thursday, the panel set up an ad-hoc committee to investigate the circumstances surrounding the engagement of Nigerian lawyers: Oladipo Okpeseyi (SAN) and Temitope Adebayo, for a $16.9 million (about N6billion), when the actual work had been concluded by Mr. Enrico Monfrini, and was paid by the Federal Government for recovery the $321 million, part of the Abacha loot from Luxembourg.

The resolution of the House is to check whether due process was followed and to report back within six weeks for further legislative action.

The decision of the House to investigate the matter was due to the motion moved by Hon. Mark Terseer Gbillah (APC, Benue) titled: “Need to investigate the proposed payment of $17 million to lawyers by the Attorney-General of the Federation for recovery of Abacha loot.”

He disclosed that Monfrini, a Swiss Lawyer was engaged by the Nigerian government in 1999 to recover the Abacha loot for which the sum of $321 million was a part and had finished the Luxembourg leg of the job since 2014 when Mohammed Bello Adoke was the AGF.

Gbillah said: “Mr. Mofrini had since been paid by the Federal Government for his legal services for the recovery of the money which was then domiciled with the Attorney-General of Switzerland pending the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Nigeria to avoid the issues of accountability around previous recoveries.

“All that was left was the signing of the MoU which is a government-to-government communication for the money to be repatriated to Nigeria. Abubakar Malami, the minister of justice and attorney-general of the federation, had curiously engaged the services of another set of Nigerian lawyers in 2016: Oladipo Okpeseyi, and Temitope Adebayo for a fee of $16.9 million (about N6 billion), without due process,” he said:

He recalled that both lawyers had worked for President Muhammadu Buhari’s Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), a legacy party of the All Progressives Congress (APC) when Malami was the legal adviser of CPC.

Gbillah added that the terms of the agreement reached with Mofrini for the recovery clearly spelt out that no other lawyer would be engaged for the return of the money to Nigeria.

Hon. Gbillah pointed out that the recovery of the Abacha loot was not only shrouded in secrecy, but noted that the process was in danger of breaching the contract terms.

Hon. Uzoma Nkem-Abonta (PDP, Abia), who supported the motion, said that if indeed the newly contracted lawyers worked with the AGF in another capacity, it would indeed be a breach of contract.

Hon. Rita Orji (PDP, Lagos) stressed the need to investigate the alleged breach of appropriation process, while Hon. Agbonayinma Johnson (APC, Edo) asked for a holistic exercise to expose the culprit.

The motion was unanimously passed when the Speaker, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, put it to vote.

 

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