Nigeria’s Finance Minister Kemi Adeosun says she has no information on a controversial request for the payment of $17 million to two lawyers regarding the repatriated $321 Abacha loot.
The request for the payment was made by the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami.
Mr Malami requested the payment to two lawyers, Oladipo Okpeseyi and Temitope Adebayo, for a fresh contract to pursue the return of the Abacha loot.
The proposed payment triggered widespread controversy following reports by The Cable that the roles for which the lawyers were employed to perform had already been concluded by a Swiss lawyer, Enrico Monfrini’s law firm since 2014.
According to the newspaper, Mr Monfrini, who was employed by the federal government in 1999 to facilitate the return of the money, completed the Luxembourg part of the job in 2014 and the recovered loot was domiciled with the Office of the Attorney-General of Switzerland pending a Memorandum of Understanding that the money would not be misused by the Nigerian government.
Corroborating the points made in previous publications regarding the matter, the Swiss Ambassador to Nigeria, Eric Mayoraz, said during an interview with PREMIUM TIMES that the Attorney-General of Geneva took a final decision on the repatriation in 2014.
“The Attorney-General of Geneva did the final decision, I think in 2014. There was a ruling by the AG in Geneva that the money is ready to be delivered to Nigeria, with the condition that the money will not be diverted,” Mr Mayoraz said.
He added that the precondition formed the basis for the MoU which was eventually signed before the final repatriation in 2017.
Subsequently, Cable Newspaper Journalism Foundation (CNJF), a partner organisation with TheCable, made a Freedom of Information request to the minister asking for the details of the said request.
In a reply to the FOI, Mrs Adeosun’s office was quoted by the newspaper as saying that the ministry had no information about the said request.
“The Federal Ministry of Finance does not have any information regarding any payment made to the Solicitors. You may therefore wish to direct your request to the Federal Ministry of Justice,” the paper quoted a reply from the finance ministry as saying in a letter dated August 30.
Mr Malami had confirmed making the request in an interview with Telegraph newspaper, where he cited exorbitant fees from the Swiss lawyer as reason for beginning a fresh contracts with the lawyers.
But Mr Mamai’s claim were swiftly refuted by Mr Monfrini who explained that he had long been paid, before Mr Malami assumed office.
The National Assembly is currently investigating the proposed payment to the controversial lawyers.