Anti-graft groups query Justice Minister on OPL assets recovery

Henry Uche

Nigeria’s Minister of Minister and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, has been asked to give full disclosure of recovered assets linked to the OPL multi-billion dollar oil scam.

In a statement delivered by the Chairman of Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA Resource Centre) Mr Olanrewaju Suraj, the charge came after the Corner House, Global Witness, Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA Resource Centre) and Re-Common, launched a global campaign through a letter to the AGF Malami for transparency in the assets recovered from the scam. In the petition, the groups raised 25 critical questions for Malami.

According to the statement, assets running into billions of dollars have been recovered due to local and international litigations but there are increasing public outrage against the lack of transparency in the process, noting that lack of openness in the entire process has continued to fuel public suspicion that corrupt officials might manipulate the procedure for personal gains.

They further revealed that a consortium of anti-corruption groups across the world is raising a series of fresh questions on the role of Malami and the funding arrangements that Johnson and Johnson, the Nigerian legal firm that has the fiat for all OPL 245 recovery claims, has entered into with Drumcliffe Partners, a U.S. litigation fund, to finance various OPL 245 related asset recovery cases.

The statement jointly signed by the group reads:

‘Nigerians need to know assets recovered relating to the OPL 245 scam. This is one of the most significant corruption cases in Nigeria involving billions of dollars in stolen funds used by political figures to procure assets kept across the world. It is important that Nigerians and the international community knows how many assets have been recovered.’

Following earlier media publications by the group titled “The Ministry of Justice Needs To Get Its Act Together On Asset Recovery”, raising questions about the Ministry of Justice’s handling of asset recovery and damages claims, particularly in relation to the OPL 245 corruption scandal, Global Witness was contacted by Montfort Communications, a Public Relations Firm that defends the Legal Team of Nigerian Central Government. The groups said Montfort offered to arrange a meeting to explore earlier raised concerns about the lack of transparency in the asset recovery deal, saying it was ready for an open meeting driven by overall public interest.

The groups stated that they have raised 25 fundamental questions seeking answers from both the OPL 245 asset recovery lawyers and Malami who, as a senior law officer and Minister of Justice, should be abreast of the funding arrangements and their implications for Nigeria.

The groups said Nigerians are anxious to know how many OPL 245 related contracts have been signed between Johnson and Johnson and Drumcliffe, on what dates, when and how was Malami informed of the existence of such contracts.

The group stated: ‘Nigerians want to know if any complaint has ever been made to any official body or official of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in respect of terms of the contracts, has Johnson and Johnson or any legal firm employed by Johnson and Johnson explained the terms of the contracts to any official of the Federal Government and whether any assessment has been made by Johnson and Johnson or any legal firm employed by Johnson and Johnson of potential conflicts of interest that might arise from the contracts?’

They said contracts signed with all relevant authorities relating to the asset recovery should not be shrouded in mystery.

The coalition asked Malami to clarify what fees and expenses arising from Nigeria’s assets recovery does Drumcliffe fund, and what does it not fund, who is Drumcliffe’s counterparty in the funding agreements and whether it was the Federal Government or Johnson and Johnson.

The groups further asked: ‘How much funding has Drumcliffe allocated or spent to date on the various OPL 245 asset recovery efforts (Italian civil claim, JP Morgan, Shell-Eni etc), what is Drumcliffe’s typical rate of return, or what lowest rate of return Drumcliffe will accept, and also Drumcliffe’s contractual rate of return in the case of FRN/OPL 245 recoveries.’

They noted that litigation funders typically prefer to deduct what is owed to them prior to recovered assets or damages being remitted to the claimant. The coalition asked Malami to confirm that in the OPL 245-related contracts entered into between Johnson and Johnson and Drumcliffe, all recovered monies will be automatically credited to the Federal Government without prior deductions adding that if this is not the case it would wish to know what procedure will be followed.

‘Has that procedure been sanctioned by the Attorney General or the Solicitor General? What deductions would be made and how these consistent with Government policy on asset recovery claims. What assurances can you give that Drumcliffe is not controlling the FRN’s legal strategy? What codes of conduct, if any, does Drumcliffe subscribe to in the USA? Who regulates Drumcliffe? And what are the key regulatory requirements?

They said it is important to know what assurances can Malami give that Drumcliffe has the capital in reserve to support the Federal Government’s asset recovery efforts long-term, who is paying the FG’s £850k legal costs from the recent case it lost against Shell, Eni and others in London and when did the FG’s legal team in the recent Shell and Eni case first inform the government that Drumcliffe would not be liable for the £2 million adverse costs in the Shell, Eni and others case in London.

The groups asked further: ‘Who is liable for putting up any securities for costs in other ongoing cases, Drumcliffe or the FG and if it is the government, are they aware of this and when did you first inform them of the development.

They also wanted to know if Drumcliffe had funded other FG and OPL 245 assets recovery cases before, why are Drumcliffe’s funds incorporated in Delaware, who typically invests in Drumcliffe’s litigation funds and what due diligence has been undertaken by Johnson and Johnson on the investors in Drumcliffe? And on Drumcliffe itself.

They asked: ‘Has the FRN been informed of the names of the investors in Drumcliffe and what contingent liabilities have been built up by the FRN for OPL 245 assets recovery cases undertaken through Johnson and Johnson? Who sanctioned these liabilities.’

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