By Talatu Bala
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission says the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr Paul Usoro (SAN), told investigators during an interrogation that the N1.4bn which was paid into his account by the Akwa Ibom State Government was for the tribunal case which Governor Udom Emmanuel won.
The EFCC said this in a statement issued on Friday by its acting Spokesman, Mr. Tony Orilade while reacting to a speech delivered by Usoro at the NBA’s National Executive Committee, which held on Thursday.
Usoro, who will be arraigned by the EFCC, was said to have received questionable funds from the Akwa Ibom State Government.
The EFCC said, “Indeed, the EFCC had invited Usoro in June this year, to explain his role regarding the inflow of N300m from the Akwa Ibom State Government’s account into the account of Paul Usoro Chambers.
“Usoro was also interrogated on the aggregate inflow of N1.1bn from the state government’s account into the bank account of his company.
“Under interrogation, Barr. Usoro had said that the various sums of money received from the Akwa Ibom State Government, under the administration of Governor Udom Emmanuel, were payments for legal fees to him and other eminent members of the inner bar and a host of other members of the outer bar that I had engaged to work with me in respect of the election petition matter involving the governor.”
The commission said Paul Usoro explained that the payments were independent transactions and that the Akwa Ibom State Government’s payments-on-account were in “respect of my firm’s professional services to the state, while the payments to the senior counsel were made by me for and on behalf of Governor Udom Emmanuel, at his request”.
The anti-graft agency said rather than explain why he received such huge sums of money, Usoro raised the issue of “client-lawyer privilege”, arguing that “judicially and historically”, the “issues of fees, as between a lawyer and his client, is a matter of privilege”.
The EFCC said contrary to Usoro’s claim that it was playing the role of auditor and regulator of legal fees, the EFCC has special powers to investigate suspicious financial transactions by virtue of Section 18 (d) of the EFCC Establishment Act 2004.
“From all intent and purposes, payment of over N1.4bn to Usoro from the accounts of Akwa Ibom State Government for unofficial transactions is nothing short of criminal diversion of public funds,” said the statement.