Nigeria’s Attorney General in dogfight with recovery agent over stolen assets

Abubakar Malami
Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami PHOTO: Daily Trust

The claims by a government-appointed recovery agent, George Uboh, that the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, is undermining efforts by the current administration to recover stolen money have degenerated into a dogfight, with the attorney general saying Mr. Uboh deceitfully obtained federal consent for the job by concealing his criminal past.

“When Mr. George Uboh offered his services to act as recovery agent for the Federal Government, he did not formally declare that he was a convict in the US associated with credit card fraud,” Mr. Malami told PREMIUM TIMES in an interview, citing this as one of the reasons he revoked Mr. Uboh’s contract.

At a press conference in Abuja Tuesday, Mr. Uboh, however, offered a different take on the matter, saying two weeks after he obtained a mandate to “trace, recover and remit Federal government’s funds that are allegedly trapped in Nigerian banks,” he was able to trace N324 billion [about‎ $1 billion] after which he wrote to inform the minister attaching proofs of the monies in several banks.

“Instead of following up to recover these monies, the minister wrote to me informing me that my mandate has been terminated,” Mr. Uboh said.

“While I am not against the revocation of my mandate‎, I am concerned that while President Muhammadu Buhari is busy travelling around the world tracing stolen wealth, his minister is not interested in recovering stolen monies stashed in various Nigerian banks which can be easily recovered,” Mr. Uboh told journalists.

In response to this claim, Mr. Malami told PREMIUM TIMES that “even though Mr. Uboh said he had privileged information to recover over N1 trillion on behalf of the Federal government that were with banks and associated ministries, departments and agencies of government but out of caution, I restricted his instruction exclusively to banks in respect of which he said he could recover about N400 billion immediately.”

Mr. Malami said he became concerned when Mr. Uboh’s company, Panic Alert Security System [PASS], embarked on a fishing expedition, carrying out its brief beyond the bounds of its contract, exploring and extending his recovery reach to ministries, departments and agencies that were clearly out of the scope of his instructions.

“That gave me a second concern when some MDAs reached out to me seeking clarification,” the minister said, adding that Mr. Uboh’s method of work also spurred some worry  because, while he suggested that he had information on bank accounts where government money were lodged, it turned out that Mr. Uboh went to the banks and MDAs, armed with his mandate, asking them to open their books and be given access to their data for the purpose of executing the instruction.

The Rule of Engagement

Mr. Uboh had on February 17 this year approached the Ministry of Justice with a proposal to help trace and recover federal government funds trapped in various Nigerian banks and associated government ministries, departments and agencies.

Based on Mr. Uboh’s proposal, the Attorney General issued a letter of engagement for asset recovery services on behalf of the Federal Government.

The letter, seen by PREMIUM TIMES, allowed Mr. Uboh’s company “to trace, recover and remit Federal Government funds trapped in the under listed banks: Access Bank, First Bank, Zenith Bank, Diamond Bank, Fidelity Bank, UBA, Union Bank, Spring Bank-Enterprise Bank, Afribank-Mainstreet Bank, Oceanic Bank-Ecobank, Bank PHB-Keystone, FCMB and WEMA Bank.”

The attorney general offered to pay a success fee of five percent (5%) of actual recoveries made and remitted to the designated accounts of the Federal Government of Nigeria.

The agreement added that the success fee was without an entitlement to a deposit-on-account prior to the commencement of its services.

The letter further distanced the government from any other fees and expenses that might be incurred by PASS or any of its agents during the recovery process.

‘The recovered loot’

Mr. Uboh said he traced 47.14 billion naira, 598.7 million dollars, and £23.5 million pounds to the banks.

The details are shown in the table below:

S/N Bank Name Naira $ Dollars £ Pounds
i Oceanic Bank 23,365,781
ii Access Bank 5,898,243,009 5,204,176
iii Enterprise Bank 4,916,764,635 2,947,322
iv GTB 7,117,785,253
v Eco Bank 2,080,000,000
vi Keystone Bank 4,513,663,789 582,329,623 2,629
vii Skye Bank 13,313,050,000
viii Citi Bank 306,300,358 8,217,074 149,289
ix Zenith Bank 9,000,000,000
Total 47,138,807,044 598,698,195 23,517,699

 

The Revocation

Even though the rule of engagement seemed clear, a March 24, 2016 letter suddenly put paid to what appeared a laudable effort of the attorney general and a great whistleblowing effort.

“I hereby revoke the Letter of Engagement issued to your firm under my hands on 9th February, 2016 and direct that you refrain from taking any further action in respect of the said letter henceforth,” Mr. Malami said in a letter with reference number, HAGF/MISC/2016/Vol.I/23. 

When the attorney general was contacted to shed light on the controversy, he said Mr. Uboh’s criminal past and his handling of the brief were responsible for the revocation.

He said at the time Mr. Uboh offered to act as recovery agent, he did not declare that he was a convict in the US associated with credit card fraud.

Mr. Malami said for him as minister of justice, that information was important for any engagement with anyone and that Mr. Uboh ought to have disclosed that.

He said it became even more important to revoke the contract after he became aware that Mr. Uboh was also facing criminal charges in Nigeria as well.

On April 25 this year, Justice Sunday Ebenezer Aladetoyinbo of the Federal Capital Territory High Court, Abuja, convicted and sentenced Mr. Uboh to three years imprisonment.

He was jailed for his role in converting the property of the defunct Police Equipment Foundation (PEF) to his own use.

Mr. Uboh was arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on a three-count charge of criminal breach of trust involving the sale of PEF vehicles.

He was accused of abusing his position as former head of security and communication department of the foundation to convert the properties of the foundation to his personal use.

Justice Aladetoyinbo however gave Mr. Uboh an option of N 4 million fine.

The businessman was previously convicted of wire fraud in the United States.

He was prosecuted after US law enforcement agents carried out a major raid on a credit card and bank fraud ring in Georgia in 1992.

He came out of jail on January 16, 2001.

Read below the full letter of disengagement from the attorney general to Mr. Uboh.

Attention: Dr. George Uboh

REVOCATION OF LETTER OF ENGAGEMENT FOR ASSET RECOVERY SERVICES ON BEHALF OF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT OF NIGERIA

I write with reference to my earlier letter dated 9th February, 2016 in respect of the above-described subject-matter wherein you were engaged by the Federal Government of Nigeria as a Recovery Agent for assets properly belonging to the Federal Government but claimed to be improperly in possession of the thirteen (13) specific Banks listed in Paragraph 2 of the said letter.

  1. You will further recall that your engagement was based strictly on the fact that your firm would pursue the recovery of the said assets in the aforesaid banks only, pursuant to the terms and conditions further set out in the aforesaid Paragraph 2 of the Letter of Engagement.
  2. My attention has however been drawn to the fact that your firm, Panic Alert Security Systems, in the purported exercise of its brief, has engaged in various acts which are outside its brief as authorized by me in the aforesaid Letter of Engagement.
  3. Pursuant to the above, I hereby revoke the Letter of Engagement issued to your firm under my hands on 9th February, 2016 and direct that you refrain from taking any further action in respect of the said letter henceforth….

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