Firm Drags SAN to LPPC, NBA Over Alleged Fraud, Akinseye-George Denies Allegations, Demands N115m Legal Fees
A company, Nacenn Nigeria Limited, has filed a petition against Prof. Yemi Akinseye-George, SAN before the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN)/chairman of the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (LPPC) and the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA).
It is alleging “professional misconduct, criminal misrepresentation, suppression of material facts and fraud” against the Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).
This is despite the pendency of a suit by the SAN at the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, in which he is demanding N115million from the firm.
NACENN, in the October 8 petition sent separately to the CJN and the NBA, is urging them to investigate its complaints.
It wants them to refer the petition to the LPPC and the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC) respectively “for appropriate sanctions as the justice of this petition demands.”
In affidavits on oath deposed to by Nacenn’s director, Chukwugozie Ezulike, the petitioner accused Prof Akinseye-George of violating the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners 2007.
Specifically, the firm said the SAN contravened Rule 1 and Rule 23 (1), which provide: “A Lawyer shall uphold and observe the rule of law, promote and foster the cause of justice, maintain a high standard of professional conduct, and shall not engage in any conduct which is unbecoming of a legal practitioner…
“A lawyer shall not do any act whereby for his benefit or gain he abuses or takes advantage of the confidence reposed in him by his client.”
Nacenn Nigeria said it engaged Prof. Akinseye-George by a letter dated February 28, 2018, to assist it to recover N2billion judgment-debts from the Federal Government.
The firm said it was agreed that his professional fees will be 10 per cent of whatever he recovered and that the duration of the engagement shall automatically terminate after March 30, 2018, if Nacenn does not receive the said payment.
The petitioner said Prof. Akinseye-George did not recover any amount within the period of the subsistence of his engagement letter.
The firm said it re-engaged the SAN on April 25, 2018, to continue with the recovery on the terms that he is entitled to 10 per cent of any recovery made.
Nacenn said this engagement terminated on May 15, 2018, by the end of which Prof. Akinseye-George made no recovery.
The company said: “Despite the fact that no effort by Prof. Akinseye-George (SAN) yielded any benefit for the company in form of any payment, when in June 2018, after the effective termination of his second engagement the Federal Government paid the sums of N100million and N150million, Nacenn Nigeria still magnanimously paid him the sums of N10million and N15million respectively, representing 10 per cent of the recovered sums as contained in the earlier terms of the engagement letter.
“Nacenn Nigeria having paid off Prof. Akinseye-George for his services and given the fact that his engagement had lapsed, formally wrote him on the 10th day of August 2019 terminating his services to the company.”
The petitioner said its former Chairman/Chief Executive Officer, the late Chief N. G. Ezulike, had engaged the services of another lawyer, Henry Iheanacho, to recover the remaining debt.
The petition reads in part: “Unfortunately, the former Chairman/CEO died on the 23rd day of October 2019.
“Prof. Yemi Akinseye-George (SAN) immediately took undue advantage of the death to misrepresent to Mr Afam Ezulike, the son of the former Chairman/CEO, that his engagement to recover the sum of N2billion was subsisting, and wilfully refused to inform him in actual fact that his contract was terminated on the 10th of August 2019.
“Furthermore, Prof. Akinseye-George also suppressed the fact and refused to disclose to Mr. Ezulike that the law firm of Henry Iheanacho & Co. was engaged to take over from him and the said law firm has commenced work based on the terms of its engagement; despite these facts being personally known to Prof. Akinseye-George.”
Alleged 20 per cent demand
The firm said shortly after the death of the former Chairman/CEO, Prof. Akinseye-George learnt that the Federal Government made another N500million payment in November 2019.
“He immediately took advantage of the situation of the death and the fact that the family was in grief and completely unaware of the terms of his earlier engagement and termination and fraudulently demanded the sum of N100million, being 20 per cent of the N500million.
“The family of the former Chairman/CEO of Nacenn Nigeria, not being aware of this pre-meditated plan of Prof. Akinseye-George to defraud them, actually paid him the sum of N100million, being 20 per cent of N500million paid to Nacenn Nigeria on the fraudulent misrepresentation in his demand letter.”
Nacenn Nigeria said it attached to the petition the statement of account of Prof. Akinseye-George showing that he “fraudulently collected 20 per cent of N500million”.
The firm said the SAN, in a letter of November 27, 2019, demanded 20 per cent of the recovered sum for himself only, “even when he knew he had no contract”.
The petitioner further alleged: “He equally demanded additional 7.5 per cent of the recovered sum to be paid to Henry Iheanacho & Co, which clearly confirms that he is aware that Henry Iheanacho & Co was the one with the subsisting contract to recover the balance of the judgment debt and not him.
“The total percentage contained in the demand letter is far above the contemplation and instruction of Nacenn Nigeria to anybody”.
The firm said even if the SAN had any subsisting contract, he would only be entitled to 10 per cent of any sum recovered “and not the 20 per cent he fraudulently misrepresented and collected”.
The petitioner added: “In May 2020, long after the termination of the contract and the appointment of the law firm of Henry Iheanacho & Co, the Federal Government made an additional payment to Nacenn Nigeria Limited in the sum of N416,666,666.00.
“Prof. Akinseye-George, on becoming aware of the payment, set in motion a dishonest plan to continue defrauding Nacenn Nigeria by sending a WhatsApp message to Mr. Ezulike vide his telephone number demanding for 20 per cent of the sum of N416, 666,666.00 for himself alone and an additional seven per cent for Henry Iheanacho & Co, whom he had earlier demanded 7.5 per cent for it as its entitlement.
“It is manifestly clear that Prof. Akinseye-George has this penchant of unilaterally falsifying percentages and figures for personal financial gains to the detriment of his client whose interest he has a duty to protect and, clearly, these actions amount to conduct unbecoming of a legal practitioner.
“Fortunately, the new management headed by Mr Ezulike discovered the docket where the various letters of engagement, disengagement and correspondences between their late father and Prof. Akinseye-George were kept.
“The documents show that Prof. Akinseye-George misrepresented that he was entitled to 20 per cent of recovered funds as against 10 per cent expressly stated.
“Also, Mr Ezulike discovered that Prof. Akinseye-George’s contract was terminated in August 2019 and was not renewed subsequently.
“The new management was utterly shocked that upon confronting Prof. Akinseye-George with these hard truths of his suppression of relevant facts, criminal misrepresentation and fraud, he neither showed any sign of remorse nor apologised for his criminal acts.
“Rather, he was busy saying that he has put in great efforts to secure the payments made, which invariably is not an answer to the fraud he perpetrated on the company.
“In spite of the dishonest manner and fraud done to Nacenn Nigeria by Prof. Akinseye-George, the new management decided not to make a public show of his fraud.
“Accordingly, it reaffirmed the termination of his engagement on grounds of criminal misrepresentation and fraud but on compassionate grounds and given the prior efforts even though these did not yield any tangible result decided to pay him 2.5 per cent of N416,666,666.00, which amounted to N10,416,666.65.
“However, Prof. Akinseye-George continued insisting that he was still entitled to 10 per cent of the sums recovered inclusive of the ones that are yet to be recovered even though his engagement had long been terminated and even though he had demanded and was paid an extra N50million over and above what he should have earned from the N500million recovered.”
According to the petitioner, the SAN wrote a letter on May 29, 2020, nine months after his final disengagement, “where he somersaulted to demand 10 per cent of the recovered sum relying on the letter of engagement dated 28th February 2018 as opposed to the 20 per cent which he fraudulently demanded and was paid.”
The firm claimed Prof Akinseye-George served it a bill of charges the same day re-emphasising his entitlement as 10 per cent and continued to monitor payments made to it “to make spurious demands”.
‘Nacenn not indebted’
Nacenn Nigeria said it could not understand why a legal practitioner who was disengaged by a client in writing would insist “on foisting himself on the client”.
“It is, inter-alia, on the basis of this that Nacenn Nigeria denies being indebted to Prof. Akinseye-George in respect to the bill of charges served on it.
“It is pertinent to state here that as at 10th of August 2019 when Nacenn Nigeria finally terminated the contract of engagement of Prof. Akinseye-George, it was not indebted to him and it is wrong and fraudulent for him to demand payment for a work done by another person duly engaged after his formal disengagement.
“From the way Prof. Akinseye-George has acted after his final disengagement, it seems that he briefed himself to continue working for Nacenn Nigeria without its knowledge and consent and this runs contrary to the ethics of the legal profession and, as a member of the inner Bar, the learned Senior Advocate ought to know this,” the petitioner said.
It added that “in a display of extreme bad faith”, the SAN procured an order of Mareva injunction and attached all the funds in its Zenith Bank account, which included its operational funds that are not part of the recovered monies, thereby crippling its business and making it impossible to honour its obligations.
The firm said: “The conduct of Prof. Akinseye-George as chronicled above and supported by documents, shows professional misconduct of the highest order, suppression/ misrepresentation of material facts and actual fraud by Prof. Akinseye-George, who with impunity disregarded the ethics of the legal profession because of selfish pecuniary gains, thus dragging the name of the revered legal profession in the mud.
“The petitioner is aware that the legal profession in particular and the judiciary in general have internal mechanisms, systems and organs like the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee and the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee that handle complaints like this against deviants and erring members of the legal profession and apply the necessary sanctions in deserving cases on such erring members irrespective of status at the Bar.
“It is on the strength of this belief that the Petitioner is bringing this petition hoping that it will get the justice that will serve as a deterrent to other members of the Bar who might want to take this ignoble route.
“The petitioner is prepared to appear and defend this petition whenever called upon by any organ or panel that may be constituted to handle this petition.”
Prof Akinseye-George, in his suit, is demanding N115million from Nacenn Nigeria for services rendered in recovering the debt.
The SAN said he was engaged due to his expertise as a professor of law and experience in mediating between the government and the private sector, having also worked as a special assistant to three different Attorneys-General of the Federation.
He said the late Chief Ezulike asked him to do all within his powers to recover three judgment-debts worth about N2bilion and was engaged via a February 28, 2018 letter.
He said he briefed his client about the developments at the expiration of the time given him.
He said he was asked “to continue to carry out the assignment”, with the assurance that the promised 10 per cent would be paid on the recovery of the debt.
The SAN said he succeeded in recovering the funds.
Prof Akinseye-George said the late Ezulike’s son, Afam, called to reassure him that the company would honour the father’s commitment to him when Chief Ezulike died.
The claimant said due to his “persistent follow-ups”, the Ministry of Finance paid N500million to the company in November 2019. The company, in turn, paid him the agreed 10 per cent.
The SAN said following numerous visits to the ministry and several letters, the ministry decided to pay the balance in three equal instalments of N416,666,666.6, with the first instalment paid in May this year.
Akinseye-George said to his “utter surprise and dismay,” the company refused to pay him the agreed 10 per cent fee.
Instead, he was paid “a paltry sum of N10.4million being 2.5 per cent of the amount paid the defendant by the Federal Government”.
He said the Ministry of Finance, on June 15, paid the second instalment to the company.
The SAN said the company owes him N31,666,666.6 less N10.4million for the first instalment; N41,666,666.67 for the second instalment payment and the same sum for the third instalment payment, which he said was due to be paid in July.
The claimant said the first defendant was indebted to him to the tune of N73,333,333.27 up to the time of filing the suit and that he is entitled to a further N41,666,666.67 given the last payment.
Akinseye-George claims “he has suffered great financial inconvenience” due to the refusal to pay the balance of his professional fees, adding that the company is “stopped from denying the efforts and work of the claimant”.
The SAN averred that “even though the letter stated that his contract would automatically terminate on March 30, 2018, a new contract was created by the actions, words and conduct of the first defendant after that date”.
He said he not only continued to render his professional services, but also wrote letters, facilitated meetings, visiting the finance ministries of justice and finance countless times, and exchanged over 30 messages with the late chairman and other executives.
The SAN said he continued “representing the first defendant according to the terms of the contract engagement”.
The claimant said he would rely on the doctrine of estoppels, adding: “The first defendant cannot deny the existence of a contractual relationship between it and the claimant”.
Akinseye-George denies allegations
Prof Akinseye-George denied the allegation of fraud or misrepresentation.
He stated that the N50million he was paid was deployed to honour the commitments made by the late Chief Ezulike to those who facilitated the recovery of the judgment-debt.
“These commitments were known to the General Manager, Mr Ifeanyi Okwusa and Mr Maduka Anigbogu.
“The N50million was deployed fully for the purpose it was brought, through Mr Ifeanyi Okwuosa.
“I never misrepresented any fact or facts to anybody, including Afam Ezulike, in respect of anything done in the course of the recovery of the entire debt,” the SAN said.
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