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Nigeria Risks Losing N218billion Abacha Loot as Justice Minister Malami, US-Based Attorney, battle

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Abacha

One of the issues believed to have been discussed by President Muhammadu Buhari and the visiting U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, during a closed-door meeting last Tuesday was the return of millions of dollars of Nigeria’s money looted by late military dictator, Sani Abacha.

However, Nigeria stands the risk of forfeiting a hefty N218.3 billion ($550 million) already recovered from Mr Abacha’s estate if a suit filed by an American-based Nigerian lawyer against the Nigerian government in a United States federal court is not quickly resolved.

Texas-based attorney, Godson Nnaka, who was contracted by the Nigerian government in 2004 to help find and recover funds siphoned by Mr Abacha and his associates, has asked the court to appoint him a private attorney general of the fund as well as award him 40 percent of the recovered fund. He claimed he made the request in line with United States law.

Mr. Nnaka has also accused the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, of demanding kickback of as much as 70 percent of his fees and acting in a vindictive manner after he turned down his demand. Mr. Malami strongly denied the allegations.

The Letter of Instruction

In 2004, Mr. Nnaka approached the Olusegun Obasanjo administration with a proposal to help find and recover millions of dollars stolen by Mr Abacha. Having convinced the government that he could trace and recover the looted funds, the Attorney-General of the Federation at the time, Akinlolu Olujimi, in a November 25, 2004 letter, instructed Mr Nnaka “to proceed in a professional manner to recover the funds on behalf of the country.”

“Government will only pay for your professional services a percentage as may be agreed for any sum actually recovered,” the letter added.

In a letter to President Muhammadu Buhari in August 2015, Mr Nnaka said he carried out the task. He claimed he hired a group of lawyer, financial consultants, and academics across the world to help identify and trace the funds.

He also said he travelled to France, England, Switzerland, Angola, Turkey, and Austria, to meet with government officials, law enforcement agents and financial experts with the aim of finding and securing the funds.

Mr. Nnaka further claimed in that 2014, after a district court ruling forfeiting the money to the United States government, he singlehandedly filed an appeal when he entered appearance to “protect the interest of Nigeria” when no one did. According to him the court would have awarded the money to the United States if no one hand entered appearance on behalf of Nigeria within 35 days.

He said unfortunately all his efforts to secure the fund for the country were antagonised by the former Attorney General of the Federation, Mohammed Adoke, and his successor Mr Malami.

Mr. Adoke’s cold shoulder

Mr. Nnaka explained that he approached Mr Adoke and explained the need for the Nigerian government to act quickly or stand the risk of forfeiting the funds to the United States. He said he needed Mr. Adoke to sign a mandatory verification required by law for him to perfect the claim filed in court to secure the recovered loot.

But on May 26, 2014, Mr Adoke wrote the United States Department of Justice (DOJ), saying the Nigerian government did not authorise Mr Nnaka and three other persons to represent it in the asset forfeiture case.

Mr. Nnaka said Mr. Adoke wrote the DOJ despite receiving a letter from Mr. Olujimi on May 15, 2014 confirming that he was indeed hired by the Nigerian government to help find and recover the loot.

Subsequent to the refusal of Mr. Adoke to sign the mandatory verification and his letter to the DOJ, the court ruled that the fund should be forfeited to the United States government.

Mr. Nnaka said he immediately filed an appeal to preserve the interest of Nigeria in the case and to stop the money from being forfeited to the US government.

Mr. Nnaka alleged that Mr. Adoke, and later Mr Malami, wanted him out of the case because he refused to accede to their fraudulent demands. He claimed they planned to enrich themselves from the recovered fund.

“Mr Adoke intended to corruptly chase plaintiff away from the recovery of the looted funds so that Mr. Adoke would recover and re-loot the funds for himself by himself or through proxies and for his self-enrichment and/or for his associates in crime,” he wrote in a petition to a federal court in the U.S.

“Malami asked me for 70 percent of my fee”

In April, frustrated for being repeatedly stonewalled by the Nigerian government, the US-based attorney through his lawyer, Benneth Amadi, filed a civil suit against the Nigerian government and Mr Malami at a US district court in Washington DC.

In the complaint and petition accompanying the suit, he requested to be appointed a private attorney general of the recovered funds. Mr Nnaka also claimed that Mr, Malami, just like Mr Adoke before him, is “convincingly” working with the Abacha family with the intention of criminally diverting the funds for his enrichment and those of his unnamed associates.

He said after the 2015 presidential election, he approached Mr. Malami through his representatives with relevant documents and personally appealed to him to undo the wrong perpetrated against him by his predecessor.

He claimed that Mr Malami initially appeared to be working in the interest of the country and seemed genuinely interested in the repatriation of the funds. He said the AGF promised to sign the necessary papers setting aside the letter written by Mr. Adoke as well as promising to sign the mandatory verification letter that would reinstate him as the government’s attorney.

He said trouble started when Mr Malami started making “shocking” demands.

“Mr Malami started making shocking proposals and demands before he would sign the documents. Mr Malami proposed that the plaintiff should agree to part with and to pay a significant portion of his fees in the aforesaid matter to him as a condition for Malami to sign and deliver the necessary documents for the verification and the reactivation of the mandate letters to the plaintiff,” the petition read.

The petitioner further stated that he would prove in court that Mr Malami, who he claimed was a former lawyer to the Abacha family, was working in cohort with the Abachas, Abubakar Bagudu, who was Mr Abacha’s bagman, to divert the fund for himself.

Mr Bagudu is a governor of the Nigeria’s North-West state of Kebbi.

In a telephone interview, Benneth Amadi, Mr Nnaka’s lawyer, said after it became clear to Mr Malami that his client was not ready to share his fees with him, he started acting in a “vindictive manner.”

“Mr Malami indeed asked my client for 70 percent of his fees. We would prove it in court. Of course I don’t expect him to admit to you that he did but we have evidence to prove it in court,” he said.

After the breakdown of the discussion between Messrs Nnaka and Malami, the AGF then appointed another attorney to represent Nigeria in the case.

Documents shows that in May, a Los Angeles based lawyer, Anthony Egbase, notified the U.S. District Court that the Nigerian government had authorised him to appear in court as its attorney in the case.

Mr. Amadi said by the appointment of Mr Egbase, Mr. Malami may have gotten what he was not able to get from his client, Mr Nnaka. He claimed the new attorney was yet to file anything in relation to the case since he was appointed by Mr. Malami.

On why his client was asking for a fee as steep as 40 percent of the recovered fund, Mr Amadi said it was the standard practice in the United States. He however added that Mr. Nnaka was ready to negotiate for a lower fee if the federal government was ready to play ball.

“Here in the US there is what is called the contingency fee arrangement that an attorney and his client may enter into. That was the agreement he entered into with Nigeria at the time and the contingency fee is is normally 40 percent though they may negotiate and reach an agreement which may be less than the 40 percent.

“When you are negotiating someone does not negotiate against themselves. Here you are required to make your offer but how much has Nigeria offered? They have offered zero as if the whole thing is a joke.”

When contacted, Mr Malami said Mr Nnaka was “incompetent” and a “fraudster” who couldn’t recover a kobo of the stolen wealth for 14 years. He said Mr Nnaka was not licensed to practice law in the United States like he claimed.

“If he claimed he has recovered the money let him show you where the money is? Which federal government account was it designated to. As far as I am concerned I know he is not licenced as a lawyer to practice in the US. So there was a problem of misrepresentation on his part when he approached me. He didn’t disclose that,” Mr Malami said in a telephone interview.

“He claimed to have been retained by AGF Olujimi over 14 years ago and as of this moment he has not succeeded in recovering a kobo for the federal government. For 14 years because he doesn’t have the competence and capacity to make any recovery he could not recover a kobo.”

He said that the letter of instruction given to Mr. Nnaka by Mr Olujimi required him to give the government feedback on his progress after which he would be given further directives on how to proceed but Mr Nnaka failed to do so because he had nothing to report.

“And in fact, even the letter of instruction he claimed to have as claimed to have emanated from Olujimi, it was provisional letter given to him to go and trace the fund and report back to the office of the Attorney general for proper instruction.

“Because of his incompetence he could not trace any fund much more come back with a formal letter. So if truly he has been engaged by the office of the attorney general and he has recovered the funds why is he now seeking further instruction.”

He added that Mr Nnaka threatened to embarrass President Buhari during one of his official visits to the United States. Mr Malami said that was the point he decided to cut further discussions with the US-based attorney.

“So when I was appointed into office he approached me for such instruction. But then what annoyed me most was that he now used threat. He threatened me that if I do not give him the letter of instruction, when Mr President’s flight arrives in New York, he would embarrass the federal government. I then became annoyed because I do not naturally stand to threat. Nobody can intimidate me like a baby for procuring a letter of instruction. And on that basis I said he should do his worst. That was the genesis of the problem.”

Interestingly, just like Mr. Naka accused him of working with the Abachas to divert the fund, Mr. Malami too accused him of working for those who does not want the funds repatriated to Nigeria.

“My logical conclusion arising from the way he behaved in court by filing series of applications so as to stop and frustrate that repatriation of the money to Nigeria is that he was not working for national interest,” the justice minister said.

“Perhaps he was working with the people from whom Nigeria is trying to recover the looted money from. Because no lawyer can pursue a case for 14 years without making any meaning progress. The position of things now is he is a clear criminal. He is clearly incompetent. We are not negotiating anything with him at all if he has a case let him go to court,” he said.
Mr Amadi, however, said Mr Malami was like a drowning man who is clutching to a straw. He said it was not true that Mr Nnaka was not licensed to practice law in the United States.

“He is just talking nonsense,” Mr. Amadi said. “He is like a sinking man trying to gather some straw, which would not help him at all. The money has been frozen in different banks in different countries. The only thing stopping the money from being repatriated is this lawsuit. If the Nigeria government agree to reach a settlement with Mr Nnaka, the court will order that the funds should be unblocked and returned to Nigeria,” he said.

“The retainer he got was go and look for the money. Take the necessary step to get where the monies are. If you see them, recovere them. To recover the money, you don’t go into a bank and start collecting the money. Necessary steps have to be taken as they are being taken now.”

On Mr Malami’s claim that Mr. Nnaka is not licensed to practice law in the United States, Mr Amadi said the AGF was merely peddling falsehood. He said Mr. Nnaka’s licence to practice in the state of Maryland was revoked, but that he still has a licence to practise in Washington DC.

“In US you have different states giving lawyers licences to practice. It is not like in Nigeria where a body of benchers give licenses to lawyers to practice throughout Nigeria. Here each state gives licenses to lawyers to practice in that state and if one needs to practice in another state you will have to get license from the state. Nnaka has license to practice in some state. He has license practice in Maryland. But there was a time he had some problem.

“He gave his cases for some lawyers to handle his cases for him so the lawyers he gave the cases to could not meet up with one case and then the matter was reported and they wrote letters, then he was not around because he was looking for this money and working on this Nigerian case before he could come back they had taken decision and withdrawn his license in Maryland. Only Maryland. But he has a license to practice in Washington DC. He has an office.

“At the time he was given the retainer to look for these funds, he was fully in licence. His license was not touched. None of them. Even if he does not have license he retained lawyers to do the work, he hired investigators to be looking for where this money was. So what the attorney general said doesn’t make sense at all,” he said. (premiumtimesng)

CEO/Founder Investors King Ltd, a foreign exchange research analyst, contributing author on New York-based Talk Markets and Investing.com, with over a decade experience in the global financial markets.

Government

COVID-19 Vaccine: African Export-Import Bank (Afrexim) to Purchase 270 Million Doses for Nigeria, Other African Nations

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African Export-Import Bank (Afrexim) Approves $2 Billion for the Purchase of 270 million Doses for African Nations

African Export-Import Bank (Afrexim) said it has approved $2 billion for the purchase of 270 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines for African nations, including Nigeria.

Prof. Benedict Oramah, the President of the Bank, disclosed this at a virtual Africa Soft Power Series held on Tuesday.

He, however, stated that the lender is looking to raise more funds for the COVID-19 vaccines’ acquisition.

He said: “The African Union knows that unless you put the virus away, your economy can’t come back. If Africa didn’t do anything, it would become a COVID-19 continent when other parts of the world have already moved on.
“Recall that it took seven years during the heat of HIV for them to come to Africa after 12 million people had died.

“With the assistance of the AU, we were able to get 270 million vaccines and financing need of about $2 billion. Afreximbank then went ahead to secure the $2 billion. But that money for the 270 million doses could only add 15 per cent to the 20 per cent that Covax was bringing.

He added that this is not the time to wait for handouts or free vaccines as other countries will naturally sort themselves out before African nations.

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China Calls for Better China-U.S. Relations

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China Calls for China-U.S. Relations

Senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi said on Monday the United States and China could work together on issues like climate change and the coronavirus pandemic if they repaired their damaged bilateral relationship.

Wang, a Chinese state councillor and foreign minister, said Beijing stood ready to reopen constructive dialogue with Washington after relations between the two countries sank to their lowest in decades under former president Donald Trump.

Wang called on Washington to remove tariffs on Chinese goods and abandon what he said was an irrational suppression of the Chinese tech sector, steps he said would create the “necessary conditions” for cooperation.

Before Wang spoke at a forum sponsored by the foreign ministry, officials played footage of the “ping-pong diplomacy” of 1972 when an exchange of table tennis players cleared the way for then U.S. President Richard Nixon to visit China.

Wang, a Chinese state councillor and foreign minister, said Beijing stood ready to reopen constructive dialogue with Washington after relations between the two countries sank to their lowest in decades under former president Donald Trump.

Wang called on Washington to remove tariffs on Chinese goods and abandon what he said was an irrational suppression of the Chinese tech sector, steps he said would create the “necessary conditions” for cooperation.

Before Wang spoke at a forum sponsored by the foreign ministry, officials played footage of the “ping-pong diplomacy” of 1972 when an exchange of table tennis players cleared the way for then U.S. President Richard Nixon to visit China.

Wang urged Washington to respect China’s core interests, stop “smearing” the ruling Communist Party, stop interfering in Beijing’s internal affairs and stop “conniving” with separatist forces for Taiwan’s independence.

“Over the past few years, the United States basically cut off bilateral dialogue at all levels,” Wang said in prepared remarks translated into English.

“We stand ready to have candid communication with the U.S. side, and engage in dialogues aimed at solving problems.”

Wang pointed to a recent call between Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Joe Biden as a positive step.

Washington and Beijing have clashed on multiple fronts including trade, accusations of human rights crimes against the Uighur Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang region and Beijing’s territorial claims in the resources-rich South China Sea.

The Biden administration has, however, signalled it will maintain pressure on Beijing. Biden has voiced concern about Beijing’s “coercive and unfair” trade practices and endorsed of a Trump administration determination that China has committed genocide in Xinjiang.

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U.S. Supreme Court Allows Release of Trump Tax Returns

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President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office Of The White House

U.S. Supreme Court Allows Release of Trump Tax Returns

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday paved the way for a New York City prosecutor to obtain former President Donald Trump’s tax returns and other financial records as part of a criminal investigation, a blow to his quest to conceal details of his finances.

The justices without comment rebuffed Trump’s request to put on hold an Oct. 7 lower court ruling directing the former Republican president’s longtime accounting firm, Mazars USA, to comply with a subpoena to turn over the materials to a grand jury convened by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, a Democrat.

“The work continues,” Vance said in a statement issued after the court’s action.

Vance had previously said in a letter to Trump’s lawyers that his office would be free to immediately enforce the subpoena if the justices rejected Trump’s request.

A lawyer for Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Supreme Court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority included three Trump appointees, had already ruled once in the dispute, last July rejecting Trump’s broad argument that he was immune from criminal probes as a sitting president.

Unlike all other recent U.S. presidents, Trump refused during his four years in office to make his tax returns public. The data could provide details on his wealth and the activities of his family real-estate company, the Trump Organization.

Trump, who left office on Jan. 20 after being defeated in his Nov. 3 re-election bid by Democrat Joe Biden, continues to face an array of legal issues concerning his personal and business conduct.

Vance issued a subpoena to Mazars in August 2019 seeking Trump’s corporate and personal tax returns from 2011 to 2018. Trump’s lawyers sued to block the subpoena, arguing that as a sitting president, Trump had absolute immunity from state criminal investigations.

The Supreme Court in its July ruling rejected those arguments but said Trump could raise other objections to the subpoena. Trump’s lawyers then argued before lower courts that the subpoena was overly broad and amounted to political harassment, but U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero in August and the New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in October rejected those claims.

Vance’s investigation, which began more than two years ago, had focused on hush money payments that the president’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen made before the 2016 election to two women – adult-film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal – who said they had sexual encounters with Trump.

In recent court filings, Vance has suggested that the probe is now broader and could focus on potential bank, tax and insurance fraud, as well as falsification of business records.

In separate litigation, the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives was seeking to subpoena similar records. The Supreme Court in July sent that matter back to lower courts for further review.

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