Conviction is April 16, Britain to return seized assets to Delta
AT the home-front, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) met a brickwall in its attempt to prosecute former Delta State Governor James Onanefe Ibori over alleged financial misconduct while in office.
When the heat was on him, Ibori went underground for weeks in 2010 before he escaped to Dubai, which turned out to be an ill-fated journey.
He was extradited to London on the request of British government for trial over money-laundering and other offences.
Against earlier reports that Ibori might enter into a plea bargain, the former governor yesterday pleaded guilty before a United Kingdom (UK) court to a 10-count charge of money-laundering and conspiracy to defraud his state.
His admission of guilt promptly set the stage for his sentencing, which the court has fixed for April 16 and 17, 2012.
British police had accused him of stealing $250 million (about N38.75 billion at the exchange rate of $1 to N155) over eight years that he was governor.
The prosecutor also called him a “thief in government house.”
Ibori, both under the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo and his late successor, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, was seen within the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as a power broker. He was arrested in 2010 in Dubai and then extradited to London.
According to agency reports, Ibori shocked the court yesterday when as his trial at London’s Southwark Crown Court was about to begin, changed his plea to guilty and admitted stealing money from Delta State and laundering it in London through some offshore companies.
Prosecuting Queens Counsel (QC) Sasha Wass said Ibori, 53, had “tricked” his way into becoming a governor between 1999 and 2007, by giving a false date of birth and claiming he had no criminal record.
“He was never the legitimate governor and there was effectively a thief in government house. As the pretender of that public office, he was able to plunder Delta State’s wealth and hand out patronage.”
Before yesterday, Ibori’s wife, Theresa, his sister, Christine Ibie, his mistress, Udoamaaka Okoronkwo, and his London solicitor, Bhadresh Gohil, had all been convicted of money-laundering and sentenced to five-year jail terms each.
The EFCC had asked the London Metropolitan Police to look into Ibori’s financial affairs.
“The vast sums of money involved were used to fund Ibori’s lavish lifestyle,” Detective Inspector Paul Whatmore, the officer in charge of the investigation, said.
“We will now be actively seeking the confiscation of all of his stolen assets so they can be repatriated for the benefit of the people of Delta State.”
He said the money Ibori stole should have been used to pay for sanitation, power supplies and healthcare for his people.
In 2007, a UK court froze assets allegedly belonging to him worth $35 million.
The former governor, who appeared at Southwark Court on two separate indictments, however pleaded not guilty to a further 13 counts. He will remain in custody until he is sentenced.
Ibori had been expected to face a 12-week trial involving dozens of witnesses, but after he entered his guilty pleas the prosecution said that he had in effect accepted the substance of the case against him and a full trial was no longer necessary.
Besides theft of public funds, the former governor is on trial for a fraud involving Delta’s shares in a defunct telecommunication firm, V-Mobile, which has transformed to a new outfit.
He admitted one count of conspiracy to launder money, five of money laundering and one of obtaining a property transfer by deception over the theft of more than £25 million (about N6.125 billion at the exchange rate of £1 to N245) while he was still a governor.
Ibori also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud, conspiracy to make false instruments, and one count of money laundering linked to a $37 million share fraud in the sale of shares in V-Mobile.
According to the prosecutors, Ibori is 49, but according to the date of birth he used in Nigeria he would be 53.
Whatmore said it is estimated that Ibori stole around £250 million from the Nigerian state. As governor of the state, he was racking up credit card bills of $200,000 per month on a luxury lifestyle, including running a fleet of armoured Range Rovers.
He was trying to buy a plane for £20 million at the time he was arrested, he said.