Lauretta Onochie, a member of President Muhammadu Buhari’s media support team, has filed a defamation lawsuit against Emeka Ugwuonye, a controversial US-based lawyer. The lawsuit was triggered by Mr. Ugwuonye’s post on Facebook alleging that Ms. Onochie was running an international human trafficking ring.

 

In the N1 billion lawsuit, Ms. Onochie asserts that the lawyer’s Facebook posts had done grave damage to her reputation, adding that the defendant would publish further malicious posts about if he were not restrained. 

Mr. Ugwuonye, who used to represent the Nigerian Embassy in the US as well other high-profile Nigerian officials, is no new comer to controversy. SaharaReporters disclosed his embezzlement of $1.55 million after representing the Nigerian Embassy in a series of real estate transactions. Two years ago, a U.S. District Court ordered Mr. Ugwuonye to refund the $1.55 million as well as to make significant interest payments on the funds. 

Mr. Ugwuonye, whose legal practice in the US has ground to a virtual halt, is also facing criminal charges from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over his alleged theft of funds belonging to another client. 

In a defamation suit filed by at the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) by her counsel, Festus Keyamo, Ms. Onochie is demanding that Mr. Ugwuonye retract his defamatory posts and tender an unreserved apology to her. 

Court papers disclosed that no fewer than 163 persons had ‘Liked’ Mr. Ugwuonye’s defamatory post. In addition, more than 80 people had ‘Shared’ the post, with at least 198 ‘Comments.’

In the post titled “A major break in tracking of the Dubai Madams and their agents—A key Madam revealed as a socialite with apparent connections to (sic) Nigerian politicians,” and published on January 21, 2016, in his Due Process Advocates Facebook page, Mr. Ugwuonye alleged that Ms. Onochie, using names like Aunty Lolly, Madam or Aunty, operated an international girls trafficking ring across United Arab Emirates (UAE), Italy and Greece for prostitution. 

Stated the rogue lawyer in the post, “Ms. Lauretta Onochie is clever as much as she could be cruel and mean-spirited [to] her victims. As part of her cleverness, she has associated herself with the Abuja politicians. She likes photo-up opportunities with the most powerful politicians, including Presidents and Vice Presidents...Seeing a picture of her and the President (Muhammadu Buhari) is enough to silence the agents of a victim of human trafficking. 

“That is enough to silence any official likely to ask questions; that is enough to get any curious immigration official who intercepts her girls to let them go unstopped. That is enough to cause you and I to believe that she cannot kill an ant. Yet, she is a vicious trafficker of poor girls into international prostitution...Her support for President Buhari seems so honorable and something we would not expect from someone in the business of human trafficking.”

Mr. Ugwuonye’s post also alleged that Ms. Onochie recruited young girls by “promising them [a] good life in Dubai and elsewhere, swearing their parents to shrines, selling them off for $5,000 to $15,000, making nude videos of them and using thugs to intimidate their parents back here in Nigeria.” He added that Ms. Onochie bribed immigration officials at the airport to allow transit to the underage girls. 

Ms. Onochie’s lawsuit wants the court to issue an order of perpetual injunction restraining Mr. Ugwuonye and his agents, privies or servants from further publishing or causing to be published “any libelous, injurious or defamatory words against her.” 

The plaintiff, who is a grandmother and a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC), asserted that Mr. Ugwuonye falsely and maliciously described her as “an international human trafficker who belongs to a powerful network of criminal gangs and racketeers.” Ms. Onochie described the publication as false and untrue, adding that Mr. Ugwuonye did not conduct any investigation before publishing the malicious allegations. 

SaharaReporters exclusively exposed Mr. Ugwuonye’s illegal decision to usurp $1.55 million that belonged to his former clients, the Nigerian Embassy in the US. In a default judgment delivered after the embattled lawyer failed to appear for his court-ordered deposition, Judge Barbara J. Rothstein dismissed claims by Mr. Ugwuonye that he had converted the huge sum to his personal use because the Nigerian government owed him for other services he rendered. Justice Rothstein stated that Mr. Ugwuonye failed to provide credible proof that he was being owed by the government.

“Mr. Ugwuonye’s counterclaim and cross-claims are dismissed,” the judge ruled.

The court asked the Embassy to file “its motion for default judgment, including an affidavit for damages, no later than May 28, 2013.” Judge Rothstein also awarded the Embassy its attorneys’ fees and costs of any expenses incurred in the course of the litigation against Mr. Ugwuonye.

According to the court judgment, Mr. Ugwuonye had represented the Nigerian Embassy in several real estate transactions, including the sale of its property located at 2201 M Street, NW, Washington D.C. Under the terms of their engagement, the Embassy agreed to pay Mr. Ugwuonye and his law firm, ECU Associates, an amount equal to 3.5 per cent of the sale price of the property as complete payment for fulfillment of their obligations under the contract.

But in what the Embassy suspected to be a premeditated attempt to steal part of the proceeds of the sale, Mr. Ugwuonye failed to submit the required paperwork to the American Internal Revenue Service to the effect that the Nigerian embassy is a tax-exempt organization. Eventually, when the IRS issued a refund of $1.55 million to the Nigerian Embassy through Mr. Ugwuonye, the shady lawyer simply pocketed and spent the funds. 

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