Despite uproar over their terms of agreement, two controversial lawyers, Oladipo Okpeseyi and Temitope Adebayo, hired by the Federal Government to handle the recovery of $321 million Abacha loot from Switzerland have been alleged to have secretly been paid N722 million.
Although they both demanded $17 million, TheCable reported that they were both paid N722 million ($2m) after pressure from a very popular Lagos-based pastor who is a political associate of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Presidency sources told TheCable that the pastor mounted pressure on the President, claiming that the lawyers had spent “a lot of money” in trying to get the Swiss authorities to return the money to Nigeria.
BusinessDay placed a call across to Tope Adebayo Limited Liability Partnership Law Firm where a lady who picked said she was not permitted to speak on the matter and that Mr Tope Adebayo was not within the country to respond to questions.
When asked if she could provide his email address or direct contact of Tope Adebayo she hung up, and all efforts to reach her again proved abortive.
TheCable said Temitope Adebayo, one of the beneficiaries, confirmed receiving payment in a telephone interview.
Temitope Adebayo alongside Oladipo Okpeseyi were alleged to be demanding payment of $17 million for performing an already completed role in the return of $321 million carted away from Nigeria’s treasury by former military dictator, Sani Abacha, with $1.5 million interest by the Swiss government.
Riding on one of his campaign promises before taking over power, it was former President Olusegun Obasanjo that initiated actions to ensure the return of $321 million carted away from Nigeria’s coffers by late military ruler, Sani Abacha, as the Obasanjo administration engaged the services of a Switzerland lawyer, Enrico Monfrini, to oversee the procedures for the return of the money.
Enrico Monfrini has been called “the man who dictators fear the most”. He is renowned for his skill in tracking down billions of dollars salted away by corrupt leaders and their cronies.
After series of discussion and negotiations, the Swiss lawyer Enrico Monfrini completed the Luxemburg part of the job in 2014, as the looted funds were then domiciled with the Attorney-General of Switzerland, until the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Nigeria and Swiss government that was supposed to act as a commitment that the funds would be appropriately utilised.
Long before Abubakar Malami, Nigeria’s attorney-general and minister of justice, assumed office, the Nigeria government had paid Enrico Monfrini his full legal fees having completed the procedure for the full recovery as clarified by the Swiss lawyer himself in a stated communication with the Cable online newspaper.
After the lawyers were employed, the attorney-general demanded the payment of $16.9 million (N7bn) for the services of the two lawyers, an amount far higher than what Monfrini was reported to have been paid in the original contract.
“I don’t know why the Federal Government of Nigeria decided to appoint other lawyers,” Monfrini was quoted to have said as of that time.
The Swiss lawyer explained that since September 1999, there had been no breach in the agreement he signed with the Nigerian government.
Reacting to the reported controversies trailing the appointment of the lawyers and a lawsuit instituted after repeated Freedom of Information Requests on the matter by the Cable Foundation, the attorney-general claimed the fresh contract was created because Monfrini charged Nigeria 20 percent of the recovered sum as against the expected 5 percent for the execution of the return.
Monfrini denied claims that he was asking for extra payment to complete the job, insisting that the recovery had been finalised and that all that was left was for the attorney-general to write a letter to the Swiss government.
“I never had the audacity to claim for additional fees. This figure of 20 percent is simply invented,” Monfrini was quoted as saying.
A senior official of the Ministry of Justice told TheCable that “this is a case of re-looting Abacha loot.
“A simple letter from the office of our attorney-general of the federation to the Swiss attorney-general requesting the repatriation of the funds to Nigeria consequent upon the signing of an MoU was all that was required to consummate the deal,” the official said as of that time.
“From nowhere, Abubakar Malami Nigeria’s attorney General went and appointed another set of lawyers to do his job for him, and for few million dollars too.
Cable Newspaper Journalism Foundation (CNJF), a not-for-profit media organisation, had sent a Freedom of Information to Malami to make available copies of the agreements signed with Monfrini, but the attorney-general did not respond to the request.
Also, CNJF asked Kemi Adeosun, then minister of finance, to explain the N7 billion payment to Nigerian lawyers.
In a Freedom of Information request, the foundation wants to be furnished with a breakdown of the amount approved and released for the lawyers since they were appointed in 2016, in addition to records showing payment timeline for the services of the Swiss lawyer, Enrico Monfrini, who completed the recoveries in 2014.
As far back as 2011, the Tope Adebayo LLP Law firm represented the General Buhari in a suit no. ID/837/2011 in a case instituted by Buhari against former special adviser to former President Goodluck Jonathan on Media and Publicity Reuben Abati, accusing him of libel –based on an article titled “For the attention of General Buhari” published on April 22, 2011 in the Guardian Newspaper. In the said article, Abati alleged that the president made careless statement, which led to post-election violence.
It is also interesting to note that the connection of the firm to the presidency dates back to the days of Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), the party under which President Buhari previously contested. The firm was a counsel to CPC at a time when both the president and Malami were members of the legacy party. To further buttress this point, both Malami and Tope Adebayo acted as counsel to the first respondent (Congress for Progressive Change) in suit number SC. 272/2011 (CON) before the Supreme Court. The matter relates to the 2011 presidential election that was challenged by the party.