Two lawyers stand to win as much as $3 billion in a legal battle over one of the biggest known arbitration awards but their careers are at stake if a crucial London verdict goes against them.
Seamus Andrew and Trevor Burke are set to get payouts of about $2.2 billion and $850 million respectively if Nigeria loses its court and pays an $11 billion arbitration award in full. The West African nation's lawyers alleged the duo discussed destroying evidence, used illicitly obtained privileged documents, agreed to unlawful fee arrangements and overlooked corruption.
The two lawyers aren't on trial in the civil case, in which Nigeria asked a judge to scrap the arbitration award won by US hedge fund-backed firm Process & Industrial Development Ltd. But if the state wins, the two could lose their careers, Nigeria's lawyer said. Both Andrew and Burke denied all allegations of wrongdoing during cross examination.
It is "disgraceful for a leading member of the bar to sit here and tell lies" to gain enormous riches, Nigeria's lawyer Mark Howard said in court on Monday.
"Money is completely irrelevant to me," Burke said from the witness box. "Reputation and name are far more important to me than the money."
Nigeria is contesting a 2017 award alleging P&ID indulged in bribery of "industrial and epic scale" to secure a gas contract in 2010 and win the arbitration after the gas deal failed. An adverse ruling for Nigeria would have a debilitating impact for the largest economy in Africa as the amount equals almost a third of Nigeria's forex reserves.
P&ID denies the allegations. Nigeria's belated accusations are fictitious, politically motivated and meant to avoid the massive liability, P&ID's lawyers said during the trial. P&ID "does not accept that there is any basis for the awards in its favor to be set aside," Nick Marsh, its lawyer, said in an emailed statement.
Andrew and Burke advised P&ID throughout the arbitration case and were promised a share in the payout. Andrew later acquired 75% stake in the company through a Cayman Islands-registered litigation funding firm. The hedge fund VR Capital Group owns the rest. Burke, a barrister, is a nephew of one of the Irish founders of P&ID.
"I didn't regard it as dishonest and improper and I do not regard it as dishonest and improper now," Burke said in court in response to questions about the fee arrangements. "I was acting for my family."
No evidence was destroyed but some documents were deleted as P&ID had a policy of keeping the records in Dublin instead of Nigeria after raids by a law enforcement agency in Nigeria, according to Burke.
Nigeria is confident that "justice will finally be served," the country's spokesperson in London said in an emailed statement. Andrew declined to comment and Burke didn't respond to a request for comment.
If P&ID loses the case, Andrew may have to "kiss goodbye" to his legal career, Nigeria's lawyer Mark Howard said while questioning him.
Andrew denied that the privileged documents were obtained unlawfully. He wanted to win the case to ensure his professional reputation more than the money, he said. "I have a huge amount of motivation to not lose this case," Andrew said.