Law firm

AGF-hired law firm denies selling recovered assets on behalf of federal government

* EFCC queries Department of Justice Asset Recovery Unit on recovered assets
*Lawyers and civil society criticize asset recovery process for hiding secrecy.

A law firm has denied selling off some assets it had been hired by Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Justice Minister Abubakar Malami to recover on behalf of the federal government.

Mr Malami had secretly awarded a multi-billion naira asset recovery contract to Gerry Ikputu and Partners, a property appraiser, who additionally engaged law firm ME Sheriff & Co, as agent, to reclaim identified large tracts of land and buildings. belong to the federal government.

Recall that the said assets are located in 10 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.

Gerry Ikputu and Partners will be entitled to three (3) percent of the value of each successful salvage, Mr. Malami’s letter awarding them the contract sets out a confidentiality clause that prevents them from making the details of the work public.

But news broke on Friday of the arrest and interrogation by the EFCC of Ladidi Mohammed, head of the Asset Recovery Management Unit (ARMU) at the Federal Ministry of Justice, who is to work with businesses to retrieve properties.

The questioning of Ms Mohammed by the EFCC was allegedly based on the alleged sale of assets recovered by Gerry Ikputu and Partners and ME Sherriff & Co.

However, ME Sherriff and Co’s main partner, Mohammed Sheriff, said the recovered assets had not been disposed of.

While reacting to the media report linking him to the sale of the salvaged assets on Sunday, Mr Sherriff said his company had no connection with ARMU.

Mr Sherriff, who said his firm had not yet been paid for its services as none of the recovered assets had been sold, disclosed that one of the affected properties located at Osborne Road, Ikoyi, Lagos, was illegally occupied by a company after the expiration of its lease agreement.

He explained that based on Mr. Malami’s instructions, his company (Mr. E Sherriff & Co) successfully obtained a final confiscation order for the affected properties.

The confiscation order was granted by Abuja Federal High Court Judge Inyang Ekwo, according to Mr Shefiff.

“We didn’t even know there was an asset recovery management unit. Our involvement was related to the search and recovery of abandoned federal properties that were illegally occupied, based on the submission of certain individuals, who approached our company,” Mr. Sheriff said.

He added that based on the introduction of the AGF, his company went to the Federal High Court in Abuja, to obtain an interim confiscation order and then obtained a final wealth order on some of the properties, which had not yet been sold.

The lawyer said: “On October 8, 2021, the Federal Government of Nigeria granted the request of the law firm Jerry Ikputu & Partners to trace, recover and submit the abandoned properties of the Federal Government in eleven states of the federation.

“In addition to the above, on November 16, 2021, Honorable Justice IE Ekwo of the Federal High Court Abuja granted the ME Sheriff Waivers of ME Sheriff & Co and temporarily confiscated the assets from the Federal Government of Nigeria all assets listed on the letter instruction mentioned above.

“The Honorable Justice IE Ekwo also ordered the Federal Government to issue the said Temporary Forfeiture calling upon all persons/entities to, within 14 days of the order, substantiate why the final forfeiture order should not be issued by confiscating properties in the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

“The Federal Government, in compliance with the court order, made a publication in the Punch newspaper on November 18, 2021, specifically on page 34.

“The court, having given members of the public the opportunity to express their interest in one of the federal governments and the fact that no individual has filed a claim, has granted a final forfeiture in favor of the federal government of the Nigeria on January 31, 2022.

“Anyone claiming a sale arising from the recovered assets is urged by this publication to petition the office of the Honorable Attorney General of the Federation (HAGF) or the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC),” Mr. Sheriff.

Lawyers and anti-corruption activists had expressed concerns about the secrecy of the asset recovery contract.

In an earlier interview with this newspaper, Itse Sagay, a law professor and senior lawyer in Nigeria, said there was no justification for hiring private companies to execute the recovery that anti-corruption agencies were competent to do. .

“EFCC and ICPC are authorized to recover stolen public property. So there is absolutely no justification for hiring a third party to do what government agencies have the credentials and experience to do,” said Sagay, who chairs the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC). .

“So it’s strange for an outside agency, who doesn’t have that record, and will have to be paid to get the property back. It shouldn’t be; it’s wrong. It doesn’t make sense,” added Mr Sagay.

Debo Adeniran, president of the Center for Anti-corruption and Open Leadership (CACOL), said awarding the contract to Gerry Ikputu and Partners “amounts to duplication of government effort and expense.”

“Mr. Malami prefers to give jobs meant for government agencies to her friends and cronies so that every public transaction is shrouded in secrecy. That is why he awarded this contract to the private company,” Mr. Adediran added.

CISLAC executive director and head of Transparency International in Nigeria, Auwal Rafsanjani, had described the contract as a waste of taxpayers’ money.

He blamed the development on “the failure of the federal government to put in place a legal framework for the management of stolen assets recovered nearly seven years after Mr Buhari took office”.

But Mr Sherriff said it was not within the powers of the EFCC to recover the assets which had been found by Gerry Ikputu and Partners.

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