Cable Newspaper Journalism Foundation (CNJF), a not-for-profit media organisation, has stated that it sent a Freedom of Information request to the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, on the payment to lawyers in the recovery of $321 million Abacha Loot from Luxembourg.
According to a statement by the CNJF, the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, had engaged two Nigerian lawyers, Oladipo Okpeseyi and Temitope Isaac Adebayo, for the recovery after the money was returned to Nigeria with $1.5 million interest by the Swiss government.
However, The Cable online newspaper, a partner organisation to Cable Foundation, reported that Enrico Monfrini, a Swiss lawyer, had done all the legal work and completed all the recoveries for which he had been paid in full by the Goodluck Jonathan administration as far back as 2014.
The statement added that Monfrini denied allegations that he was asking for extra payment to complete the job, maintaining that the recovery had been finalised and all that was left was for Malami to write a simple letter to the Swiss government.
CNJF’s Programme Officer, Mrs. Abiose Adelaja Adams, said in the statement that Malami still engaged the services of two lawyers for a fee of $16.9 million (about N7 billion).
According to her, CNJF had sent an FoI to Malami to make available copies of the agreements signed with Monfrini, but the attorney-general did not respond to the request. Cable Foundation’s lawyers, Kusamotu & Kusamotu, are now in court seeking an order of mandamus to compel the AGF to make the documents available in line with public interest.
“In the FoI request to Adeosun, the Cable Foundation is seeking a breakdown of the amount approved and released for the Nigerian lawyers between the time they were appointed and today as well as records showing payment timeline for the services of the Swiss lawyer,” the statement said.
This request is in line with Sections 2(3) & (4) of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011 which require all “information relating to the receipt or expenditure of public or other funds of the institution” to be “widely disseminated and more readily available.”
“We are trying to help President Muhammadu Buhari in his war against corruption,” the statement added.
The House of Representatives had set up an ad-hoc committee to probe the payments to lawyers.
The Cable also reported earlier in the year that the American government has told Buhari it would not entertain the involvement of private lawyers in the return of another $500 million Abacha loot which was domiciled with the US Department of Justice in 2014 after the recoveries by the Jonathan administration.
The US government would only deal with Nigeria on a government-to-government basis, TheCable reported.