A Swiss lawyer, Enrico Monfrini, hired by the Nigerian government since 1999 to work on recovering monies looted by Sani Abacha, says his work has secured the restitution of more than $2.4 billion.
Working with Mohammed Adoke, the then attorney-general of the federation, Monfrini had recently traced about $321 million to Liechtenstein and Luxembourg, and the monies were kept in the custody of the attorney-general of Switzerland until its final return to Nigeria.
In an interview with the BBC, monitored by Globalgistng, the lawyer said he is still waiting for the repatriation of $144 million from France, another $30 million from the United Kingdom and a further $18 million in Jersey which he had secured.
The late former military ruler was believed to have laundered over $5 billion between 1993 and 1998.
“At the beginning people said Abacha stole at least $4-$5billion. I don’t believe it was the case. I believe we more or less took the most, took a very large chunk of what they had,” he said.
He said when he looks back, he is satisfied with the job he did, as he now hears that the Abachas “are not swimming in money like they used to do in the past”.
“When I speak to my very many children about this case, I tell them I found money and I blocked the money, I persuaded the authorities to go after these people and get the money back to the country for the good of the Nigerian people. We did the job,” he said.
Finding the money, Monfrini said, turned out to be relatively quick in comparison to getting it returned to Nigeria.
He said the Abachas “were fighting like dogs” as they were appealing about everything, and this delayed the process.
“We would find out on each account exactly where the money came from and/or where the money went to,” he said.
“Showing the ins and outs on these bank accounts gave me further information regarding other payments received from other countries and sent to other countries.
“So it was like a snowball. It started with a few accounts, and then a large amount of accounts, which in turn created a snowball effect indicating a huge international operation.
“Bank accounts and the documents that go with them talk a lot.
“We had so much proof of different money being sent here and there, Bahamas, Nassau, Cayman Islands – you name it.
“Nobody seems to understand how much work it entails. I have to pay so many people, so many accountants, so many other lawyers in different countries.”
He also narrated how a high-ranking government official had called him for the job in 1999.
He said the official had asked him if he could find and block the money, and he said yes.
“Can you arrange that this money be returned to Nigeria?’ “I said: ‘Yes.’ But in fact I didn’t know much about the work at that time. And I had to learn very quickly, so I did.”
TheCable had reported the controversy around the appointment of Oladipo Okpeseyi and Temitope Adebayo, two Nigerian lawyers hired by Abubakar Malami, the current AGF, to duplicate the job already done by Monfrini.
The two lawyers were both members of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), the party founded by Buhari to contest in the 2011 presidential election. Malami was the legal adviser to the party.
In a series of interviews with TheCable, Monfrini had maintained that the engagement of new lawyers was needless as he already completed the recovery job and all that was left was for Malami was to “write a letter to the Geneva attorney-general or the government of Switzerland requesting the money to be paid back to Nigeria.”
Despite the outcry, the government secretly paid the two lawyers $17 million “dubious fee.”
Monfrini, who agreed to a commission of 4 per cent on the money sent back to Nigeria, in the BBC interview, however, said the rate he agreed to was comparably “very cheap”.