$458m Abacha loot: AGF denies demanding kickback from US-based attorney

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*Says Nnaka holding Nigeria to ransom

By Ikechukwu Nnochiri

ABUJA — The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, has denied allegation that he demanded kickback from United States-based attorney, Mr. Godson Nnaka, who is laying claim to 40 per cent of $458 million loot the US government seized from late military dictator, General Sani Abacha.

Malami said the only communication his office had with Nnaka or his counsel was “only out of professional courtesy.”

Abubakar Malami (SAN)  . Photo by Gbemiga OlamikanAbubakar Malami (SAN)  . Photo by Gbemiga Olamikan
Abubakar Malami (SAN)

According to him, “allegations of a kickback demand are untrue and simply reek of desperation.”

The AGF, in a statement made available to Vanguard, yesterday, said there was need for him to address specific misconceptions about the role he had played so far towards securing the return of the Abacha loot from the US.

The AGF maintained that the stolen funds, which were frozen in various jurisdictions in the US, would have been returned to Nigeria since, if not for an appeal filed by Nnaka, wherein he is claiming 40 per cent of the forfeited loot as part of his legal fees.

Nnaka holding Nigeria to ransom
Malami, who accused Nnaka of “holding Nigerian people to ransom and unnecessarily depriving them of the forfeited funds,” said he had already engaged a lawyer to challenge the competence of the appeal.

He further challenged the US-based attorney to adduce evidence that he (Malami) requested for a kickback from him.

Giving his side of the story, the AGF said: “In 2013, as part of its Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative, the USDOJ commenced a forfeiture proceeding to confiscate approximately $550 million that had been corruptly obtained by late General Abacha and his associates (the ‘Abacha Case’).

“A portion of the Abacha loot, valued at $458 million, has now been forfeited to the United States. On December 17, 2015, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia entered final judgment forfeiting certain Abacha assets valued at $458 million.

“The forfeiture proceeding as to those assets is, therefore, concluded and the forfeited assets are ripe for repatriation to the innocent victim – Nigeria.

“However, Godson Nnaka has filed an appeal against the judgment of forfeiture, falsely claiming to be entitled to a portion of the assets as compensation for legal services allegedly rendered to Nigeria.

“The USDOJ has represented to us that the appeal is the only issue delaying repatriation of the forfeited assets to Nigeria.

“They have explained that the forfeited assets are not located in the United States and that only upon disposition of the appeal would the United States then have a final judgment upon which it can seek the retrieval of the forfeited assets which are frozen in multiple foreign jurisdictions and return same to Nigeria.

“The forfeiture of the remaining $100 million in assets is still pending. The forfeiture of these assets is being contested by certain individuals, who are related to Atiku Bagudu (General Abacha’s associate) and who claim that these assets are the subject matter of a private family trust. In this regard, we are co-operating with the USDOJ by providing them with the documents, information, witnesses and other evidence required to secure expeditious forfeiture of this portion of the Abacha loot.”

“Nnaka claimed to have been retained by former Attorney General Olujimi sometime in 2004, however, the purported letter of instruction from Olujimi states that it is predicated on Nnaka’s representation that there are looted funds in United States banks.”

“However, the records the Abacha case indicate that the USDOJ, initiated the Abacha matter based on United States Civil Asset Forfeiture statutes and that the funds in question are not located in the United States but are in multiple foreign jurisdictions.

“Even assuming Nnaka did have a proper letter of instruction from Olujimi, Nnaka never brought any action in the US to recover the monies but claims to have been travelling around to meet with the Abacha family and others for discussions. As stated above. The USDOJ filed its forfeiture action against the Abacha loot in 2013, some 11 odd years after Nnaka claims he was hired.

“In spite of the above, Nnaka never stopped trying to defraud the Federal Government of Nigeria or to extort settlement from the Federal Government of Nigeria.

“In 2016, he hired a lawyer to file an appeal in both his name and the name of the Nigeria against the Court’s order striking his filings and dismissing his claim.

“Nnaka would have needed a separate retainer agreement to act on behalf of Nigeria in any asset recovery litigation.

“Put differently, Nnaka did nothing to identify, trace and recover the Abacha loot. Even if he did identify assets, he did not actually recover anything on Nigeria’s behalf. All the asset forfeiture litigation was handled by the USDOJ without Nnaka’s participation or assistance.

“Instead, Nnaka has at each point attempted to intervene and shore up his baseless claim to a 40% fee for doing absolutely nothing. Such conduct is corrupt and seeks to deprive Nigeria of its rightful funds.

“The office of the AG never negotiated any terms with Nnaka or his counsel. The only communication with Nnaka was only out of professional courtesy. He was advised to follow due process in requesting instructions as outside counsel retained by Nigeria in this case did. He was advised to submit his proposal to President Advisory committee on corruption, the office of the Solicitor General, the Department of State Security and based on evaluation and recommendation from the above bodies, the Office of the Attorney General would consider his request.

“Nnaka’s allegations of a kickback demand are untrue and simply reek of desperation.

“We should remember that the person making these accusations was disbarred by at least two bar associations in the United States and one occasion instructed clients to lie on his behalf to the Court! We challenge Nnaka to prove his allegations!”, Malami added.

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