BUSTED! Exclusive Report Exposes How Malami Plotted With Cronies To Frustrate Recovery Of Looted N70trillion

Ex-Nigerian Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami has been roped in a messy scandal bodering on stolen funds totaling about 70 trillion naira.

In an exclusive report published on Thursday by one of the leading investigative Online news platforms, Sahara Reporters, Malami who served under the last administration led by ex-president Muhammadu Buhari, was alleged to have used his office in collaboration with his cronies to frustrate the recovery of the looted fund.

Read the report below:

Abubakar Malami, former Attorney General and Minister of Justice under the erstwhile President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, frustrated efforts to recoup to the national treasury stolen resources that financial analysts estimated to be around N70 trillion.

This is according to multiple documents obtained by SaharaReporters and corroborated by top sources within the Federal Ministry of Justice.

The former minister, however, denied the allegations.

This mismanagement marks yet another case of financial criminality that characterized the key federal offices under Buhari’s infamous democratic rule between 2015 and 2023.

SaharaReporters learned that Malami cornered private investigators and whistleblowers who initiated the fund recovery, and allegedly made deals with individuals and organisations implicated in the large-scale embezzlement scheme.

Some of the whistleblowers and private investigators had contacted the Attorney General’s office in line with the 2016 Federal whistleblower policy to initiate the recovery of funds.

Among the funds were sums traced back to a period of misappropriation stretching as far back as the oil price resurgence in 1999 and the ensuing boom between 2001 and 2003.

According to one of the documents obtained by SaharaReporters, the funds are lodged in at least 29 bank accounts, some of which are directly connected to the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), which has metamorphosed into Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL).

They held a combined sum of “well over N70 trillion naira belonging to the Nigerian government,” a top source in the Federal Ministry of Justice, told SaharaReporters last week.

But the case took a different turn when Malami personally took over the case leading to what a top official described as “no success or failure,” and “simply leaving whistleblowers out in the cold.”

“The asset recovery unit was initially involved, with internal investigators assessing the claims of the whistleblowers to be concrete, before the attorney general decided to personally oversee the recovery,” one of the officials said under condition of anonymity to avoid potential backlash.

“It was one of the biggest asset recovery cases we handled,” another senior official of the ministry said.

“But just like that, it died down. No result, no conclusion, no success or failure. Malami took over the case and everything went away.

“Some of the accounts are now being closed after the funds in them have been moved but not into the purse of the government,” he said.

A document personally signed by Malami on June 21, 2021, is titled, “Letter of Instruction to Recover Illicit Funds Traced To Specified Accounts of Individuals”.

The document obtained by SaharaReporters reads, “Following the proposal submitted by Mr. Seidu Alfa Bala Esq of Ndarani (SAN) & Co. and Solace Law Chambers, Abuja, Nigeria (hereinafter “Lead Attorney”) vide letter dated 7th May, 31st May, 6th, 8th April, 29th January, 2021 respectively; please be informed that the Federal Government of Nigeria has engaged you to recover the funds traced to certain specified accounts as listed below in this engagement letter.

“S/N 1. 1234567890123 2. ACCOUNT NUMBER 1012280444, 1012280441, 1012280442.1012280443, 1012280445, 0310000215, 0023293870, 2065764772, 3002365490, 3002385500, 3002001167, 3002001174, 3002001150, 1018980553, 2005942905, 1750027157, 2006367288, 0562014829, 2023346558, 0010213668, 2087399132, 1210538828, 1210527113, 0122891205, 0230718662, 0074582449, 5742004252, 0281556229, 0022974884.

“The scope of the engagement is for the recovery of the illicit funds traced to the accounts listed above in this engagement letter believed to belong to the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

The ‘ghost accounts’ and illicit funds were traced to 17 banks including First Bank, Zenith Bank, Access Bank, Fidelity Bank, Guaranty Trust Bank, Wema Bank, Citi Bank, Sterling Bank, Polaris Bank, and Union Bank.

Other ones listed are Standard Chartered Bank, Keystone Bank, Stanbic IBTC, Unity Bank, Heritage Bank, UBA, and ECOBANK.

The government had asked the court for an interim order to place a “lien or post no debit (PND) on all the accounts listed in the letter of instruction given to the Law Firm of Ndarani, (SAN) & Co. Solace Law Chambers, Abuja issued by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice dated 21st June, 2021 domicile in their respective banks”.

It also sought an order of “forfeiture to the monies in the respective accounts listed on the letter of instruction given to the Law Firm of Ndarani, (SAN) & Co. Solace Law Chambers, Abuja issued by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice dated 21st June, 2021,” among others.

Justice T.G. Ringim of the Federal High Court, Lagos in a ruling on August 6, 2021 granted the Applicants an interim order directing the 1st to 17th Defendant Banks to file affidavits of disclosure before this Honourable Court within 72 hours of service on the Banks with the copies of this Order and for such affidavit(s) to be deposed to by the Chief Compliance Officer of each respective Defendant Banks” on the account numbers.

The court also granted the Applicants an interim order “directing the 1st to 17th Defendants/Respondents to place a lien or post no debit (PND) on all the accounts listed in the letter of instruction given to the Law Firm of Ndarani, (SAN) & Co. Solace Law Chambers, Abuja issued by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice dated 21st June, 2021 domicile in their respective banks”.

The court added that the “order is conditional to the Applicants filing progress report to be made on the recovery of such alleged proceeds of crime at any period not later than 90 days from today otherwise, this order lapses unless the court is satisfied of the reasonableness of any such default”.In executing the alleged heist, between 2021 and 2023, sources said Malami presided over an expanded network of accomplices which included top bankers who facilitated covert movement of funds within the Nigerian banking system.

Additionally, he was said to have wielded executive influence over federal high court judges, leveraging their power to manipulate court proceedings, causing delays and, in some instances, obstructing the court from convening altogether.

Sources noted that Malami went as far as shielding commercial banks from complying with court orders mandating the forfeiture of funds of dubious origins, funds that belonged in the federal government’s treasury by law.

According to them, the manipulation gives insight not only into the depth of his insidious cycle of corruption and impunity but also into the constant undermining of the core of Nigeria’s justice and public accountability system and its resulting assault on democracy and economic prosperity.How It Happened

Between 2016 and 2021, a group of whistleblowers worked to unearth 29 bank accounts which held a total of over N70,000,000,000,000 in funds whose source could not be accounted for. The funds were suspected to have been stolen from the national coffers.

“We did not believe the figures,” an official said. “But by the time we looked into the first five accounts, it was clear that this is something that needed to be checked out.”

The accounts included First Bank NNPC/NAOC/IPP (Security Account) 2006367288 which held N147,000,000,000; 2005942905 which held $299, 613,730; and Zenith Bank 1012280444 which held N32,000,000,000. Other implicated accounts operated with Access Bank, Fidelity Bank, Guaranty Trust Bank, Wema Bank, Citi Bank, Sterling Bank, Union Bank, Standard Chartered Bank and Keystone Bank.

It also included two accounts with First Bank opened and run by multinational oil company, Agip.

However, Zenith Bank later said that the fund held in account -1012280444 – had been moved to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) Remittance account from where it was transferred to Central Of Nigeria/Treasury Single Account (CBN/TSA) account 3000004989 with the apex bank.

Following the uncovering of the accounts with funds untouched, in some cases over two decades, the whistleblowers approached the asset recovery department in the office of the attorney general and were granted a legal mandate of recovery through a letter signed by the attorney general on June 21, 2021.

The terms of the recovery included a monthly report and update to be sent to Malami’s office during the process of recovery, it was learnt.

Despite the enormous amount of money involved, Malami stated against the known whistle-blowing procedure, that the recovery mandate would only be valid for six months, after which it would be revoked and his office would take over the investigation.

But SaharaReporters learnt that before the six months lapsed, the investigating whistleblowers had presented their case before a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos and obtained orders to place Post No Debit (PND) on the shortlisted accounts until the banks made full disclosures of owners of the accounts and other information required to ascertain the identities of the owners and the legality of the funds.

The suit which was marked FHC/L/CS/968/2021 also tasked the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Nigeria Interbank Settlement System (NIBSS) to validate the information provided by the banks. The order stated that in cases where the individuals failed to come forward to claim ownership, the funds should be automatically but temporarily forfeited to the federal government.

Of the 29 bank accounts presented before the court, only two accounts have been claimed by Agip, which then later backtracked after it was asked to account for the funds held in the account.

This left investigators with 27 bank accounts with unclaimed funds and two accounts with large disputed funds.

Subsequently, the court ordered that the funds in the duplicitous accounts should be temporarily forfeited to the federal government.

According to court filings seen by SaharaReporters, the said funds ought to have been remitted to the federal government by August 5, 2021, when the certified True Copy (CTC) of the high court ruling had been served on the respondent banks but what followed was a refusal of banks to comply with the order, as well as reluctance of Malami as attorney-general to guide the investigators on compelling the financial institution to comply with court pronouncement.

Malami’s reluctance, it was learnt, speedily graduated to outright sabotaging of the entire recovery when he ignored multiple requests by the investigators and whistleblowers to increase the involvement of federal financial crimes agents in the recovery and to take actions that could legally compel the banks to transfer the monies to government recovery account.

The legal instrument of recovery granted to the investigators and whistleblowers included submission of the monthly report on the stage of the recovery to the attorney general’s office but after the judgment forfeiting the funds to the federal government, Malami stopped responding to the letters and messages of the private investigators and whistleblowers. He was also said to have actively refused, as the government representative on the prosecuting side, to ensure the orders were carried out in full accordance with court pronouncement, coordinating law enforcement agencies and providing legal guidance.

On August 3, 2021, Malami’s office received a letter from the private investigators titled “Resistance and disobedience of the banking industry.”

The letter sought to notify his office that the involved banks were resisting the court ruling which ordered them to forfeit the unclaimed funds to the federal government.

“…having procured a valid court order, we crave your indulgence and demand express and concurrent consent to compel the attendance of designated bankers,” the letter read but never got a response.

Later in the same month, his office received another letter requesting that his office, as the lead government agent in the recovery, furnish the banks and all parties in the issue with a recovery account of the federal government which the recovered funds would be paid into. But his office ignored this request also.

The whistleblowers were later obliged the accounts by the office of the accountant general of the federation, Sahara Reporters gathered, but were informed by an associate of Malami that they had been disengaged from the recovery.

The disengagement was without official notice and did not comply with the terms initially set out from the recovery.

When Malami’s associates at the asset recovery office questioned the minister on why the federal government was dragging its feet on the matter, “he simply said they should forget about it and he told the investigators to also forget about it,” SaharaReporters was told.

The former Attorney General had a pattern of giving such instructions.

In August 2022, the then-head of asset recovery in the attorney general’s office, Ladidi Mohammed was arrested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and interrogated for fraud.

Her office was accused of fraudulent sale and rediversion of recovered stolen national assets. But Ms Mohammed told the anti-graft agency that she was acting under the verbal instructions of her boss.

The whistleblowers returned to the Federal High Court in Lagos to approach Justice T.G. Ringim who had earlier issued the orders of temporal forfeiture to compel the banks to obey the ruling and to seek permanent forfeiture since 27 bank accounts remained unclaimed. However, they were informed that the case had been reassigned to Justice P.O. Lifu.

Lifu’s first sitting on the case was scheduled for October 2021, but the session was not held with the registrar stating that a new date would be communicated to the counsel.

On the morning of December 9, 2021, when the case was scheduled on the court’s docket, the whistleblowers were not informed, but even though Malami’s office was alerted, he did not send any representation.

What followed was six more adjournments between December 2021 and March 2023, all instances in ambush for whistleblowers and private investigators.

During the period of adjournments, Malami refused to take calls and messages from the whistleblowers and private investigators leading the banks to also stop responding to court summons and processes.

“The whistleblowers were left out in the cold with no government or institutional support. It was as though Malami wanted the official recovery to fail and it did,” an associate from his office said.

Lifu eventually struck out the case on March 22, 2023, because Malami in his capacity as attorney general of the federation refused to show up in court to recover 70 trillion of stolen government funds to the national coffers.

Malami did not respond to multiple requests for comments on his role in the matter. His press handler had initially requested time to “coordinate a response,” but the response was not made available for a week before the decision was made to run the story.

‘Funds Are Being Moved’

Two investigators from the asset recovery office told SaharaReporters that several of the accounts were being stealthily closed and the funds in them were being moved.

“Since a new attorney general is in office, we hoped he would reopen the case, especially in light of economic hardship that is plaguing the nation but what we discovered was that between all the period Malami was playing court games, the monies were being moved and accounts closed,” an official revealed.

A 2021 restricted Zenith Bank document obtained by our reporters disclosed that account 1012280444 which held over N32, 000, 000, 000 had been closed and the funds moved.

“Note that the balance in account 1012280444 was swept into the NNPC Remittance account from where it was eventually transferred to CBN/TSA account 3000004989 with the Central Bank of Nigeria,” the document read.

But the bank’s explanation was not acceptable to federal investigators who had trailed the funds together with whistleblowers and made moves to confiscate it in 2021 before Malami shut down the operation.

“That did not follow proper procedure. You don’t just say stolen monies have been returned to the government when they are already under investigation. Who returned it? Who diverted it in the first place? And how do we deal with the whistleblowers who brought it to our attention?” the official said.

Checks on several of the account numbers returned unresponsive following their closure.

The Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) disclosed in July 2023 that a corruption probe had been opened against the former minister.

The allegations against him included illegal auctioning of sea vessels holding crude oil seized by the Federal Government in violation of Section 31(2) and (4) of the EFCC Act 2004 and illegally assuming the role of the EFCC.

Last year, he was also under investigation for duplicating legal fees to the tune of $17 million to be paid to his cronies whom he employed in a fictitious role of helping the Nigerian government recover stolen Sani Abacha loot from the Swiss government.

Despite his cronies only writing one letter, Malami later facilitated the payment of $15 million as professional fees, a payment that was much more than what was officially paid to Swiss law firm Enrinco Mofrini which recovered over $300, 000, 000.

The saga of the $1.1 billion Malabu oil deal also brought to light the cesspool of corruption and collusion at the highest levels of power in Nigeria. Former AGF Mohammed Adoke, alongside his cohorts in the petroleum ministry, shamelessly orchestrated a heinous scheme to plunder national resources for their enrichment.

Despite an avalanche of court documents implicating Adoke, alongside his accomplices, including Dan Etete, in this brazen theft, Malami petitioned the President to suspend the fraud case against these key players.

When SaharaReporters reporters contacted Malami, he vehemently denied the allegations, stressing that he gave the whistleblower the go-ahead to prosecute the matter.

He said, “The idea that the office of the AGF provided no support in court, stopping the whistleblower from going ahead to make the recovery did not arise because once a matter is before a court, whatever remedy you require, whatever support you require, you will pass through the court to get it.

“So, the fact that the office of AGF is frustrating the case did not arise except if the lawyer does not know what he is doing.

“It is the office of the AGF that instructed the lawyer to file the case. Apparently, the lawyer was acting on behalf of the Federal Government.

“The Federal Government naturally entertains whistleblowers. If you succeed in establishing your case which led to the recovery of money, you will be entitled to a certain percentage.

“So if you have information that can now lead to recovery of certain illicit funds, you will come over to the office of AGF and AGF review it and if AGF views that indeed there is merit in it, then that will generate a letter of engagement, offer and acceptance.

“By which the Federal Government now got him committed and said ‘go-ahead in the direction of the recovery of these funds’. If the funds are recovered, he will be entitled to a certain percentage as the recovery agent and that is what happened.

“If the office (AGF’s office) is reluctant right from the outset, it would not have issued a letter of engagement (to the whistleblower). Once you are given a letter of engagement and filed an action in court, the recourse to the AGF does not matter at all any further.

“What he (the whistleblower) is expected to do is just go through the judicial process. Except perhaps if you have evidence that the office of AGF is filing a process that you can’t file an order, that can be an insinuation of reluctance.

“But in the absence of any court process promulgating an order from the court raising an objection to your application or the claim, I think it is misplaced for anybody to start thinking of frustration on the part of AGF.

“And if it is Malami that was frustrating the case, Malami is no longer in the office. Why can’t they have the recovery now?”

Malami stressed that the situation before he left office was that “the matter was pending in court”.

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Seun Akin

Seun Johnson is a professional journalist and proficient media strategist with over 10 years of consistent work experience. He is Verse in content creation and versatile in editorial administration with a deep knowledge in digital, print and broadcast journalism.

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