U.S Court Clears Legal Hurdle For Repatriation of $550 Abacha Loot
A United States District Court, yesterday, dismissed a case by a Nigerian lawyer seeking to stop the repatriation of over $550 million of stolen funds during the regime of late General Sani Abacha (referred to as the Abacha loot) to Nigeria until the payment of his legal fees worth $320 million by the Nigerian Government.
The thrashing of the case by Justice John D. Bates of the U.S District Court automatically clears the final legal hurdle for the return of the loot to Nigeria to help it retool its plummeting economy which has received heavy pummelling from falling oil prices and corruption. The U.S-based Nigerian lawyer, Godson Nnaka, had laid claim to the fact that the Nigerian Government must pay him the $320 million as legal fee for the forfeiture of the $550 million of the Abacha loot still trapped in the United States.
But Justice John D. Bates, in dismissing Nnaka’s case, held the claimant was not entitled to such payment since he was not a party to the forfeiture case filed by the US Department of Justice in conjunction with Nigeria. Nigeria, through the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation, also filed a robust opposition to Nnaka’s motion for the payment of the lien and also asked the court to bar Nnaka from making subsequent filings in that case.
Ruling on the case, the District Court entered an order denying Nnaka’s Motion for a Charging Lien (fee). The Court also specifically ruled that Nnaka’s participation in this case must now come to an end.” Justice Bates said that Nnaka did not meet the basic prerequisites to be considered as a proper party in the case and to be paid the amount he requested for, having not qualified to represent Nigeria. The judge also ruled out Nnaka for the payment since he had not won any judgment for Nigeria.
Justice Bates said in his ruling obtained by Sunday Vanguard last night that “Neither Nnaka nor his purported clients are parties to the forfeiture matter and neither of them can win judgment through this litigation. “The conclusion dooms Nnaka’s motion for charging lien. At common law, the charging of lien is applicable to a judgment or decree obtained for a client by an attorney. Until a judgment or decree has been obtained, the right to impose a lien does not arise. “Even the most basic prerequisites for charging lien are missing here: Nnaka has not won a judgment for Nigeria; indeed, he had not successfully entered appearance on Nigeria’s behalf.
A charging lien in the amount of $320 million is not called for. Nnaka’s claim against Nigeria must be pursued in another case: 16cv-1400. “Unless and until Nnaka’s claim to the defendant’s assets are reinstated by the DC Circuit, Nnaka’s participation in this case must now come to an end,” the U.S judge ruled, paving the way for Nigeria to draw down its huge cash.
It will be recalled that Nigeria’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, who was in the U.S for the judgment, had recently raised the alarm that Nnaka was merely trying to delay the return of the Abacha loot by the U.S, by making a frivolous claim that Nigeria must pay him 40 percent of the Abacha loot.
Nnaka had also claimed that Malami was working against him after he had refused to relinquish “70 percent” of his 40 percent to the minister.
But in responding to the allegation, Malami described Nnaka as a strange person to the case who had not recovered a dime for Nigeria since he was allegedly given a mandate by the former Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Olujimi, to recover the Abacha loot in 2004. Malami, in a 44-page document made available to Sunday Vanguard earlier, described Nnaka as a man trying to reap from where he did not sow.
The minister said the Nigerian Government would not pay Nnaka the huge amount he is asking for since he is not qualified to practise law in the Maryland area where the case is taking place and did not recover any money for the country 14 years after he was given a provisional letter to help locate and recover the Abacha loot.
The court had also held that since the temporary letter given to Nnaka by Olujimi was not revalidated by Mohammed Adoke when the forfeiture case resumed in 2013, the lawyer could, therefore, not claim to be representing Nigeria. But Nnaka immediately rejected the court verdict and appealed against the ruling and threatened to sue Malami for saying that he was not qualified to represent Nigeria and was not entitled to 40 percent of the Abacha loot.
The litany of cases filed by Nnaka and the appeal by the US Department of Justice, in conjunction with Nigeria, directly delayed the repatriation of the huge cash from the U.S to Nigeria.
Upon persistent inquiry, Malami told Sunday Vanguard from the venue of the hearing in the U.S that he was hopeful that with the dismissal of the frivolous case by Nnaka, efforts would be intensified to bring back the Abacha loot.
“We trust that this Order denying Nnaka’s frivolous claim to the Abacha assets, will help to allay the fear of the Nigerian general public arising from an online medium’s article which stated that Nigeria stands to lose $320 million on account of Nnaka’s Motion.
“We also hope that this Order will help to correct the many falsehoods and half-truths published in the past against the Office of the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation regarding this matter. “This is a positive development for Nigeria,” the AGF said.