The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, yesterday insisted that local and not foreign lawyers recovered the Abacha loot from Switzerland.
Malami, in an interview with New Telegraph in Kano, spoke against the backdrop of controversies trailing the payment of the Nigerian lawyers, who recovered the loot. Malami also added that no amount of blackmail would stop the Federal Government from further recovering loots outside the country.
According to him: “Well, in addressing the issue of payment to the lawyers, it is important to take you through the antecedent of assets and money recovery before even the coming of this government. Originally, there is a constitutional provision that says all assets and funds recovered should go into the Federal Government’s consolidated account before anything is done over it.
So, there is that constitutional provision, but before the coming of Buhari administration, such provision was being observed by the previous governments in breach, in the sense that payment particularly for lawyers are deducted; particularly professional fees for lawyers were being deducted from the source, even the money was confirmed by the Federal Government that was the prevailing situation before this government. “And the amount that was paid then as professional fees went between 10 to 20 per cent.
So, when this government came in, President Buhari sought for my opinion on the percentage payment on recovered funds and I suggested that the reasonable amount that could be charged for services rendered, should be actually not above 5 per cent, looking at the volume of the money concerned and I equally suggested that in the interest of transparency, all money should first get into the consolidated Federal Government account and then, thereafter, processes should be conducted and consummated by the Ministry of Finance.
“And I equally suggested to Mr. President that we should converge and accommodate certain organizations so that things would be done transparently and the world would know what we are doing is on a standard of transparency and accountability. Mr. President graciously accepted my proposals relating to the bringing in of professional bodies, payment of recovered money into the consolidated account and the accommodation of civil society organizations.
We now put it up that all recovery agents that are interested in the exercise should submit their proposals for the recovery plans. “It was against this background that a lot of lawyers, both local and foreign filed in their applications and proposals for the recovery. Of particular interest is the $321million you are talking about. The key lawyers that showed interest are one Recho Malfrini, a foreign lawyer and then one other lawyer by name Oladipo Okpeseyi (SAN).
A point of interest with the regard to the foreign lawyer Richor was that his application was facilitated by a former President.” Speaking on the role of the foreign lawyer, Malami said there is an agreement between this government and Malfrini to make recovery.
And being paid at the rate of 20-30 per cent and his deduction made at source and the agreement includes that no payment should be done to the coffers of the Federal Government is made till his money is paid. He said that it was not clear what services the lawyer rendered, “whether this $321 million was part of his facilitation. But a point of interest is that as at the time this government came in, the $321 million was not paid by the Swiss government. It was a subject of judicial litigation pending before a court. So, that is the crux of the matter.”
“Now when an application was filed by Malfrini among others asking for 20-30 per cent as against the conventional 5 per cent approved by the Federal Government, still I wrote a letter to Mr. President to consider Malfrini against the background that he was part of the recovery processes. I also tried to convince Mr. President to allow him a special concession of having 10-15 per cent.
Mr. President reluctantly considered my plea. “So, a letter of engagement was generated for him, but Ricoh Malfrini rejected the offer and now stated that he rejected the offer because of the complexity associated with the whole thing and wrote that he rejected the offer, insisting for 20-30 per cent, but Mr. President refused to grant that offer and now generated another letter. So, it was against this background that a consortium of lawyers with Nigerian origin now submitted their proposals and we accepted their letters and they swung into action.
Arising from that, the money was eventually recovered and then when the money was recovered and paid to consolidated revenue account of the Federal Government, they now forwarded a letter seeking to be paid the 5 per cent professional fees agreed upon. I generated a letter to the Central Bank seeking for the confirmation of the payment of the said money into its account. The minister added: “Armed with the letter from the CBN and their letters of engagement, I now proposed to the Minister of Finance for the payment of their fee.” Speaking on the alleged disagreement with the Minister of Finance, Malami said the payment is being processed.
16 April, 2018