- Legislators should urgently shed light on the cloud surrounding payments for recovery of the Abacha loot
The bid by federal legislators to probe the processes of recovering the Abacha loot stashed in Switzerland is welcome. Quite unfortunately, as usual, the recovery, cost and banking of the $322 million reportedly repatriated from Switzerland is shrouded in secrecy, and is generating ripples between the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation, the Presidency, Ministry of Finance on the one hand, and a Swiss lawyer engaged by the Jonathan administration for the purpose of seeing through the litigation and eventual repatriation of the money on the other.
We call on the House of Representatives that has waded into the controversy to dig deep enough with a view to unearthing the full facts of the case.
Mr. Enricho Monfrini, a Swiss lawyer who was engaged by former Attorney-general Adoke Bello, contends that he had concluded the work and had been fully paid before the Jonathan administration left the scene. He said all that remained was for the governments to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). He therefore expressed surprise at the news that some other lawyers had been engaged by the Federal Government to oversee the last phase and paid a whopping $16.9 million.
However, the present attorney-general, Abubakar Malami, explained that Monfrini was only out to blackmail him and the government. He said the litigation was on-going when the Buhari government came on board, and upon a discussion he had with Monfrini, he had requested for a fresh payment of not less than 20 per cent of the total sum.
Mr. Malami said he approached the President with a view to setting standards for such payments in line with constitutional provision that all such money must be remitted into the Consolidated Revenue Account. He also claims to have told and obtained the approval of the President that no more than five per cent of such recovered money should be paid as legal fees. However, Mr Malami said he got presidential approval for Mr Monfrini to be paid 15 per cent to complete the contract if it was agreeable to him. But, when the Swiss later rejected the offer, he had to engage Nigerian lawyers to complete the job for four per cent of the recoverable sum. The attorney- general said the MOU had not only been signed, but the money successfully repatriated.
In justifying the engagement of two Nigerian lawyers for the task, the attorney-general said he was guided by the principle of seeking senior lawyers who have sufficient experience in international litigation and mediation. He said the success recorded in repatriating the money within so short a period that they were engaged bears testimony to the quality of work done by them, when compared with how long it had taken previous governments. He then asked why Mr. Monfrini was asking for fresh payment if indeed he had concluded the task and had been fully paid by the previous administration. It is interesting that the Minister of Finance, Mrs Kemi Adeosun, was said to have queried the payment of nearly $17 million for the recovery effort.
In view of the claims and counter-claims, we call on the House of Representatives to invite all parties to the dispute to appear before it. The attorney-general should come up with the correspondences he claims to have forwarded to President Muhammadu Buhari on the matter and the response he got. The lawyers should be summoned to explain the roles they played, evidence of the litigation they engaged in and how they aided eventual payment of the recovered loot into the government coffers.
Nigerians deserve to know how much was paid to Mr Monfrini, and at what point. Besides, did he write the attorney-general asking for payment of a fresh 20-30 per cent? It is obvious that such a transaction could not have been conducted verbally. Mrs. Adeosun should present documents on payments so far made on the matter, and possible approvals forwarded to her office from the President.
One lesson that this government should learn is openness and transparency. How were the lawyers recruited for the assignment engaged? The attorney-general is yet to respond to the allegation that he merely handpicked Messrs Oladipo Okpeseyi (SAN), and Mr. Temitope Adebayo who had worked with him as lawyers of the Congress for Progressive Change, one of the All Progressives Congress’ legacy parties.
It should be noted that the amount involved is too huge to be waived aside, and a template should be set to guide negotiations in the recovery of other loots.