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Abacha Loot: Finance ministry delays probe of $17m lawyers’ fee

The ministry of finance is yet to submit its report to the house of representatives’ ad-hoc committee investigating the $17 million fee for lawyers involved in the transfer of $321 million Abacha Loot to Nigeria.

Abubakar Malami, the attorney-general of the federation (AGF), had engaged Oladipo Okpeseyi, a senior advocate, and Temitope Adebayo, two Nigerian lawyers to do a job that had already been completed by Enrico Monfrini, the Swiss lawyer hired by the Nigerian government since 1999 to work on recovering the loot.

Monfrini had questioned the engagement of the lawyers in an email interview with TheCable, saying there was nothing more to do after he had helped recover the funds from Luxembourg and domiciled them with the attorney-general of Switzerland.

He added, in another email, that the repatriation “is a matter which is normally dealt between governments and which doesn’t entail the engagement of lawyers”.

An outcry had trailed this development, and at a plenary in April, some of the lawmakers described Malami’s engagement of the lawyers asheight of injustice”.

A motion was then raised by Mark Gbillah, a lawmaker from Benue state, asking the house of representatives to carry out a “forensic investigation” on the issue.

The ad-hoc committee set up to investigate the matter was given six weeks to report back.

TheCable, however, understands that the committee is yet to report back to the house after the expiration of six weeks because they are “having challenges with some of the stakeholders involved”.

The committee had reached out to the justice and finance ministries, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), accountant general of the federation and the Cable Newspaper Journalism Foundation (CNJF).

CNJF, a partner organisation of TheCable, had earlier requested from the AGF a copy of the agreement signed with Swiss lawyers for the recovery of the loot.

The AGF did not respond to the freedom of information request.

“The ministry of finance are yet to make their submission,” a source within the national assembly told TheCable.

“They are always saying the minister is not in the country. And the committee cannot proceed until all the stakeholders make their submissions, so that they can analyse them.”

TheCable had reported how Adeosun blocked the payment for the lawyers and also reported how she came under pressure to deny querying the fees.

“The correspondence between the committee and the ministry has been a tougher one lately, and it is believed they would oblige by the new deadline given them,” the source explained.

Olayinka Akintunde, the ministry’s spokesperson did not answer calls placed to his line, and as at press time, he was yet to respond to an SMS seeking his reaction.

Another source from the national assembly also revealed that the submission from the ministry of justice was rejected because of “its nature”.

“They sent a photocopied document without properly addressed. But, they have been asked to make a proper submission before the 30th of this month,” the source told TheCable.