The Nigerian Embassy in the United States has detailed how U.S-based Nigerian attorney, Emeka Ugwuonye, allegedly stole $1.55million belonging to the Nigerian people.
The refusal of the lawyer to refund the allegedly stolen funds has now pitted him against the embassy in a fierce legal battle.
In court documents obtained by PREMIUM TIMES, the embassy said Mr. Ugwuonye represented it in several real estate transactions, including the sale of its property located at 2201 M Street, NW, Washington D.C.
Under the terms of their engagement, the embassy agreed to pay Mr. Ugwuonye and his company, ECU Associates, an amount equal to 3.5 per cent of the sale price of the property as complete payment for fulfillment of their obligations under the contract.
But in what the embassy suspects to be a premeditated attempt to steal part of the proceeds of the sale, Mr. Ugwuonye failed to submit the required paperwork to the American Internal Revenue Service to the effect that the Nigerian embassy is a tax-empt organisation.
After the IRS withheld property taxes to the amount of $1.55million, Mr. Ugwuonye approached the embassy offering to help it recover the money from the revenue agency.
For his services, the embassy agreed to pay him five per cent of any amount recovered on its behalf. He was thereafter granted a power of attorney to endorse any draft or instrument received from the IRS and to apply a lien for its fees on the said draft or instrument.
But after Mr. Ugwuonye received the $1.55million from the IRS on behalf of the embassy on November 20, 2007, he decided to keep the entire sum to himself claiming that he was applying the funds to the fees owed him for other services he allegedly rendered to the Nigerian government.
The embassy disputed the misappropriation of the funds and requested information concerning the services Mr. Ugwuonye purportedly performed for the Nigerian government.
The attorney, according to the embassy, was unable to provide the requested information and has continued to withhold the tax refund due to the embassy.
When the embassy sued him at a U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Mr. Ugwuonye filed a motion for contempt and sanction, accusing the embassy and its lawyers, Patton Boggs, of conspiring to mistreat him in Nigeria.
But in its opposition to the motion, the embassy said Mr. Ugwuonye was merely scheming to distract it from recovering the huge fund he stole from it in 2007.
“He is filing for remedies in a transparent effort to distract attention from his illegal theft of embassy funds that forms the substance of the case before the Court,” the embassy said.
The case is ongoing.
Meanwhile, the court has given a default judgment in another case brought against his company, ECU Associates. In a judgment delivered April 23, the court ordered Mr. Ugwuonye’s company to refund the controversial $1.55 million belonging to the Nigerian government.
The court entered the judgment after the firm failed to defend the case “despite multiple opportunities to do so”.
In the judgment, Judge Barbara J. Rothstein, granted the Nigerian embassy’s prayers that Mr. Ugwuonye’s firm be made to refund $1.55million it stole from the Nigerian government.
The court also asked the embassy to provide sufficient information that would enable it to determine, against Mr. Ugwuonye’s firm, an appropriate damages amount for pre- and post-judgment interest on the money, punitive damages and costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees.
Speaking to PREMIUM TIMES after the judgment, the Nigerian ambassador to the United States, Adebowale Adefuye, described the judgment as a vindication of his stand that Mr. Ugwuonye and his company had defrauded the Nigerian people.
“This guy has played all manner of tricks to scare us away from trying him for fraud,” Mr. Adefuye said. “He wrote all kinds of lies to smear my character and that of the embassy. He fought us but we remained firm. Now his days of reckoning have come and this is a message to people like him that the war against corruption is on course and that we will fight corrupt elements no matter whose ox is gored. The money he took with recklessness and impunity belongs to the Nigerian people and I can’t be here and not recover it.”
Mr. Adefuye said he has now requested the embassy’s lawyers to compute the interests that should accrue to the amount and the damages and attorneys’ fee Mr. Ugwuonye’s firm should pay to the embassy.