A late-night phone call in September 1999 completely changed Swiss lawyer Enrico Monfrini’s life for the next 20 years.
A senior official from the Nigerian government was on the other end of the queue, according to Monfrini.
He requested that Monfrini meet him in his hotel room to discuss an extremely important matter.
“He called me in the middle of the night and asked me if I could go to his hotel room because there was something important,” Monfrini recalls. ‘It’s late, but look here,’ I said.
Monfrini was given a massive task at that meeting. The official was sent to Geneva by then-President Olusegun Obasanjo to find and recover the stolen wealth of Sani Abacha, Nigeria’s ruler from 1993 until his death in 1998.
“Can you trace the money and block it?” the official asked Monfrini, a seasoned lawyer with an established office since the 1980s. “Can you make arrangements for the money to be returned to Nigeria?”
Monfrini agreed to the assignment by saying, “Yes.” “At the time, I didn’t know what the job was like,” he admitted. And I needed to learn quickly, which I did.”
Monfrini began his investigation armed with the details of some accounts provided by Nigerian police, accounts that the Swiss government had frozen due to suspected illicit funds from Abacha and his associates.
According to his book “Recovering Stolen Assets,” the initial police investigation published in November 1998 revealed that Abacha and his associates had syphoned off over 1.5 billion US dollars.
This marked the start of a multi-decade journey to reclaim Nigeria’s stolen billions.