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Monday, June 17, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Nigeria’s Dispute With Lawyers Picks Up Steam

WASHINGTON (CN) - A federal judge ushered forward claims between the Nigerian Embassy and real estate lawyers who are allegedly holding a million-dollar tax refund hostage.

The Embassy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria sued attorneys Ephraim Ugwuonye and Bruce Fein, ECU Associates and ECU Law Group in 2010, alleging that Ugwuonye and his firm refused to release $1.55 million in refunded property taxes.

After deferring the embassy's summary judgment motion, U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein refused to dismiss a nonpayment counterclaim that Ugwuonye filed.

"Ugwuonye's counterclaim alleges that, on multiple occasions, the attorney general of Nigeria assured Ugwuonye that his fees would be paid in the near future," Rothstein wrote. "Ugwuonye also alleges that he was 'encouraged by the Government of Nigeria to build a practice that would be most suited for [the Government of Nigeria's] unique circumstances.' He contends that this encouragement 'guided [him] in his recruitment of lawyers, and the building of his practice.' The facts alleged by Ugwuonye, taken as true, raise a question as to whether the Embassy lulled him into a state of inaction, and for what period of time."

Noting the dispute involves a commercial activity, Rothstein refused to accept the embassy's argument that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act shields it from the counterclaim.

The case is set to proceed to discovery.

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