On the other line was a senior official from the Nigerian government, with an urgent request, Monfrini told BBC.
He wanted Monfrini to meet him in his hotel room to discuss something of utmost importance.
Monfrini recalls, “He called me in the middle of the night and asked me if I could go to his hotel room because there was something important. I said, ‘It’s late, but look here.’”
At that meeting, Monfrini was handed a monumental task. The then president, Olusegun Obasanjo, had sent the official to Geneva to find and retrieve the stolen wealth of Sani Abacha, Nigeria’s ruler from 1993 until he died in 1998.
The official questioned Monfrini, a seasoned lawyer with an established office since the 1980s, “Can you trace the money and can you block it? Can you arrange for the money to be sent back to Nigeria?”
Monfrini accepted the assignment, saying “Yes.” However, he admitted, “At that time I didn’t know what the job was like. And I had to learn quickly, and I did.”
Armed with the details of some accounts provided by the Nigerian police, accounts that the Swiss government had frozen due to suspected illicit funds from Abacha and his associates, Monfrini began his pursuit.
As he documented in his book “Recovering Stolen Assets,” the initial investigation published by the police in November 1998 revealed that Abacha and his allies had siphoned off over 1.5 billion US dollars.
This marked the beginning of a decades-long journey to reclaim Nigeria’s stolen billions.