A US District Court judge, Barbara Rothstein, has ordered Emeka Ugwuonye, a controversial Maryland-based lawyer, to immediately refund $1.55 million in tax refunds he stole from the Nigerian embassy in Washington, DC in 2007. Judge Rothstein made the ruling yesterday after the attorneys for the embassy presented a case for the award of damages against the defendant, Mr. Ugwuonye, and his law firm, ECU Associates.
In addition to refunding the bulk sum, Mr. Ugwuonye was also held liable to a pre-judgment interest at a rate of 6% per annum, he is also to pay post-judgment interest, attorneys’ fees and costs and compensatory damage totaling $2,075,131.30 as of the date of the ruling (July 12 2013)
After the date of the ruling, Ugwuonye is required to pay post-judgment interest of more than $300 per day. The embassy, through its attorneys, is seeking a total judgment of $6.2 million against Mr. Ugwuonye in compensatory and punitive damages. So far, Judge Rothstein awarded The Nigerian Embassy monetary damages in excess of $2 million after finding Ugwuonye liable on all claims.
Judge Rothstein withheld awarding punitive damages against the defendant, stating that she wanted to give further thought to the issue, adding that Mr. Ugwuonye had not shown up in open court so far in an adversarial manner.
In keeping with his habit, Mr. Ugwuonye again failed to attend yesterday’s court session. His absence amounted to disobedience of Judge Rothstein who had earlier ordered the embezzler attorney to appear at the hearing. At about 3.30 a.m. yesterday, Mr. Ugwuonye had sent the court an electronic petition stating that he was in Nigeria to testify before the Nigerian Senate. He also submitted to the court a dated letter from the Nigerian ambassador to the US, Adebowale Adefuye, asking former chairperson of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commissioner, Farida Waziri, to arrest him over his embezzlement of the embassy’s funds.
The embassy’s attorneys asked Judge Rothstein to disregard the defendant’s excuses for his absence, contending that his belated petition was part of his fraudulent tactics for delaying justice.
Judge Rothstein agreed with the embassy’s submission and proceeded to enter judgment against Mr. Ugwuonye.
In separate default judgments over the last few months, Judge Rothstein had found Mr. Ugwuonye and his law firm liable for misappropriating $1.55 million in withheld taxes that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The IRS had refunded the funds to the embassy via Mr. Ugwuonye who once represented the embassy and oversaw the sale of the embassy’s buildings in DC and surrounding areas. The tax was refunded because the embassy, as a sovereign entity, is not liable to pay American taxes.
Even though Mr. Ugwuonye’s agreement with the embassy stipulated that he was entitled to 3% of the $1.55 million, the rogue lawyer pocketed the entire tax refund and diverted the entire sum to sundry person uses. When the embassy demanded the return of the funds, Mr. Ugwuonye claimed that the Nigerian government owed him outstanding fees for legal work in other matters. Nigerian government officials denied his claim that he was owed any fees. Besides, Mr. Ugwuonye failed to provide proof to Judge Rothstein of any fees he billed to the embassy or the Nigerian government that remained unpaid. Judge Rothstein subsequently dismissed Mr. Ugwuonye’s counter claim alleging that the government owed him in excess of $3 million.
Mr. Ugwuonye’s reference to his testimony before the Nigerian Senate had to do with a petition he and a London-based Nigerian blogger, Daniel Elombah, had co-authored against Ambassador Adefuye. In an attempt to divert attention from yesterday's proceedings, Mr. Ugwuonye had engaged in Internet spins claiming that the Senate committee investigating his petition had found Ambassador Adefuye guilty of misappropriating $10 million. A source at the Senate told SaharaReporters that the lawyer’s claim was unfounded.
Upon his invitation to appear before the Senate, Mr. Ugwuonye had issued a statement stating that he did not have the necessary documents to make an effective testimony.
SaharaReporters had earlier disclosed that the so-called Senate investigation was part of a strategy by associates of President Goodluck Jonathan to embarrass former President Olusegun Obasanjo who has indicated his opposition to Mr. Jonathan’s reelection. Mr. Obasanjo, who failed in his corrupt scheme to attain a third term, imposed the now deceased Umaru Yar’Adua and Jonathan as President and Vice President respectively.