Arising from reports that the U.S government blocked the payment of legal fees to lawyers engaged by Attorney-General, Abubakar Malami, in the recovery of $500m Abacha loot, a group has alleged a ‘‘smear campaign’’ by the AGF’s detractors.
The reports in some online news mediums quoted unnamed sources in the US Department of Justice (DoJ) as saying the U.S government vowed not to deal with any third party in the restitution of the funds to Nigeria when President Muhammadu Buhari recently visited the White House.
In the reports syndicated across several online news platforms with the title ‘‘US blocks Malami’s lawyers from taking a cut on $500m Abacha Loot’’, some nameless sources were equally quoted in the Presidency as attesting to the purported stance of the U.S government.
But reacting to what it deemed fake news report, the All Progressives Congress (APC) Grassroots Youth for Change has alleged that the smear campaign is being spread by those it described as ‘‘Malami’s traducers’’.
The APC group, which spoke through its National Coordinator, Mr Olu Henry, said the smear campaign was a continuation of the “desperate and despicable scheme by some back-end sponsors and vested interests to taint Malami’s good work.”
Henry said, “Those behind this odious smear campaign are so infantile in their approach that they have easily given themselves away as pursuing a selfish agenda.
“They seem now to be more concerned about service charge by lawyers more than the judicious utilisation of the principal sums, creating the impression that their back-end sponsors were interested either in Malami’s position or in the contract given to the Nigerian lawyers.
“Reducing their ill-motivated campaign to cut-taking is the low that they have sunk in their desperate bid to render Malami’s assignment and role questionable. We have reasons to believe that the US did not give Nigeria the condition that the lawyers engaged should not be paid.
According to Henry, “We also treat with a pinch of salt the media report that the US gave a condition that it would only deal with Nigeria on a government-to-government basis for the repatriation of the $500 million Abacha loot.
“For us, nothing has detracted from inter-government transactions in the repatriation process. But it amounts to exertion of the fertile imagination of the author of the media report that the US would dictate to Nigeria how its side of the legal processes for the completion of the funds’ repatriation should be managed.
“Our group is aware that before the US visit by President Buhari, the Nigerian lawyers engaged by Malami have been appearing in the cases in respect of the USD20 million in London, USD300 million in Jersey and USD150 million in France all frozen for the benefit of the United States of America.
“Sincerely, it is not in the place of the United States government to dictate to the Nigerian government how to deal with contract properly entered into with the Nigerian lawyers in respect of the repatriation process.
“We also hold the view that Nigerian government was better positioned to determine whether or not it needed the services of lawyers to guide it in the process of putting finishing touches to the repatriation of the Abacha loot.
“It smacks of sheer mischief and irresponsibility the claim that the repatriation process had been completed. If it had been completed, why were the funds still detained in the respective jurisdictions and who says legal services were not longer needed?”
Henry recalled how “these traducers made hue and cry about the payment of five percent on the value of $322.5 million to the Nigerian lawyers that Malami engaged to complete the repatriation of the funds from Switzerland.
“That was after the Swiss lawyer, Mr. Enricho Monfrini, who began the process had reapplied for the job at the inception of the APC- led federal government and asked for a fresh 20 percent as service charge to complete it.
“A piece of credible information at our disposal indicates that at the point of reapplying for the job to complete the repatriation of the funds, the Swiss lawyer did not disclose that he had been paid by the previous government and how much exactly he had been paid.
“The Swiss lawyer curiously claimed, after his bid to get Malami to accept his offer had failed, that he had already been paid for the services he rendered. He, however, did not disclose how much he was paid,” he added.