£700m Abacha dispute finally gets to be heard

After five years in limbo, the £700m dispute over funds transferred to the family of the late Nigerian dictator General Sani Abacha finally comes to court this week.

A two-day case management conference starting today
(1 November) will determine security for costs and introduce a new party to the dispute, which has already cost several million pounds in legal fees.

The case centres on the alleged transfer of assets from Russia to the Abachas, which the claimant – Compagnie Noga D’Importation et D’Exportation, the trading company of billionaire financier Nessim Gaon – claims rightfully belong to it.

The defendants include Mohammed Abacha, the son of General Sani Abacha, and a company, Mecosta Securities, which Mohammed jointly owns.

The dispute has been in limbo for almost five years while the High Court determined whether Noga’s claim had in fact already settled. It eventually decided it had not.

This was a blow to Noga’s lead counsel Steven Gee QC, the head of Stone Chambers, who took a share in the financial risk in running
this preliminary point by agreeing to be paid under a conditional fee arrangement (CFA), albeit only on the appeal of this single issue.
Gee was instructed by Rod Baker, a litigation partner at Stephenson Harwood, who did not act on a CFA during the case.

Allen & Overy (A&O) will also appear for the first time in the case on behalf of Australian bank ANZ. Noga accuses ANZ of arranging in 1996 the alleged transfer of assets from Russia to a company owned partly by the Abacha family.

The Abacha family is being advised by boutique litigation firm Byrne
and Partners, which was established by former Dechert partners.
Dechert previously acted alongside SJ Berwin, which dropped out of the case in 2001 after lead partner Tim Taylor was accused by Noga’s expert witness of conspiring to assassinate Nigeria’s national security adviser. The allegation was groundless, but Taylor ceased acting for the Abachas as he believed his life would otherwise have been endangered.

Essex Court head Gordon Pollock QC, previously instructed for the Abachas, can no longer act because he is lead counsel for the liquidators in the ongoing BCCI case. Paul Stanley, of Essex Court, is now acting.

A&O declined to comment.