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Yes, He’s a Thief

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James Ibori, former Delta State governor, admits before a London court that he, indeed, stole public funds

The long arms of the law have caught up with James Onanefe Ibori, former governor of Delta State. In a shocking twist on Monday, February 26, Ibori pleaded guilty to a 10-count charge of money laundering at the Southwark Crown Court in London.

The ex-governor was accused of stealing 250 million pounds during his eight-year tenure in office. Ibori admitted to court charges of money laundering, obtaining a property by deception and theft of more than 250 million pounds while he was governor of  Delta State.

He also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud, conspiracy to make false instruments and money laundering linked to a 37 million US dollar share fraud surrounding the sale of shares in Nigeria telecommunications company, V-Mobile.

While addressing the court, prosecutor Sasha Wass, said Ibori had accepted he was involved in “wide-scale theft, fraud and corruption when he was governor of Delta State,” adding that he allegedly used a false date of birth when he ran for the governorship of Delta State to conceal previous convictions as a criminal record would have excluded him from taking part in the election. “Ibori tricked his way into public office. He had tricked the Nigerian authorities and the Nigerian voters. He was thus never the legitimate governor of Delta State. He is presently 49, but according to the date of birth he used in Nigeria, he would be 53.”

Speaking outside the court, Paul Whatmore, detective inspector, who disclosed that it was estimated that Ibori defrauded Delta State to the tune  of 250 million pounds, said: “The scale can only be described as huge. He laundered vast sums of money, which were used to fund his lavish lifestyle. The real harm in this case is the potential loss to people in some of the poorest regions in the world.”

The admission of guilt by Ibori, promptly set the stage for his sentencing, which the court has fixed for April 16 and 17. However, Tony Eluemunor, Ibori’s media  assistant later  issued a statement debunking the report that his boss pleaded guilty to corruption. He explained that what was involved was a plea bargaining deal. “of course that plea bargaining deal would only kick in with Ibori pleading guilty; whiche he did on Monday,” Eluemunor said.

Investigations show that Ibori rose from humble roots working in London DIY store. A few years after quitting his £5,000-a-year job as a cashier for Wickes, he had become one of Nigeria’s most influential and richest politicians. It was gathered that Ibori had a fleet of cars and six luxury properties in Britain. Ibori bought a portfolio of luxury London homes and a fleet of armoured Range Rovers. One of the cars he owned was Bentley Continental worth in the region of £150,000. He also owned a fleet of armoured Range Rovers costing £600,000 and a £120,000 Bentley. On one of his trips to London, he bought a Mercedes Maybach for more than £300,000 at a dealer on Park Lane and immediately shipped it to South Africa.

He bought a private jet for £12million, spent £126,000 a month on his credit cards and ran up a £15,000 bill for a two-day stay at the Lanesborough hotel in London.

  Ibori moved from Nigeria to West London in the late 1980s and was found guilty of stealing goods from the Wickes Store he worked at in Ruislip in 1990.A year later, he was convicted of handling a stolen credit card. He moved back to Nigeria and worked for Sani Abacha, then head of state as a policy consultant.

Rising quickly through the ranks of the ruling People’s Democratic Party, PDP, he was voted governor of Delta State in 1999, winning re-election four years later.

In power, he systematically stole from the public purse, taking kickbacks and transferring state funds to his own bank accounts around the world.He was helped by family members, including his wife Theresa; Sister Christine Ibori-Ibie; his mistress Udoamaka Onuigbo, and Mayfair lawyer, Bhadresh Gohil. A few years ago, all these accomplices of Ibori were convicted of the same act.

A massive police investigation into Ibori’s activities revealed he had bought six properties in London, including a six-bedroom house with indoor pool in Hampstead for £2.2million and a flat opposite the nearby Abbey Road recording studios. There was also a property in Dorset, a £3.2million mansion in South Africa and further real estate in Nigeria. He also owned an apartment on Abbey Road, London, opposite the famous music studios

Prosecutor, Sasha Wass, told the court Ibori concealed his UK criminal record, which would have excluded him from office in Nigeria.

The case against Ibori has been ongoing since 2010. 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.

The revelation by the UK court confirms an earlier report  that Ibori, had been convicted twice in London court of theft charges. In his first trial, Ibori and Theresa Nakanda then his girlfriend but now his wife, were convicted at the Isleworth Crown Court in London on January 25,1991.

At the time of his conviction, Ibori lived in the Middlesex area of London. He was known as “Obori.”  Ibori was a cashier with Wickes, a home improvement chain. He was charged with stealing of building materials from his place of work with the aid of his then girlfriend Nakanda.

In 1991, Ibori was arrested again for using an American gold credit card stolen from another person. He was charged in Clerkenwell magistrate court and convicted for stealing and credit card fraud.

There were indications last week that Ibori would also be tried by Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, in Nigeria after serving his jail terms in London.

Wilson Uwujaren, EFCC spokesman, said last Tuesday that Ibori has a case to answer. “The interesting aspect of the development in London is the fact that Ibori chickened out of a full blown fraud and money laundering trial by changing his plea. This was purely a gambit to run away with a lighter sentence, rather than the product of a plea bargain as erroneously reported earlier in sections of media. For the avoidance of doubt, plea bargain is not recognised in London criminal justice system. “Sadly, it has taken five years of legal rigmarole and high drama for the former governor to own up to having committed some of the crimes for which Justice Marcel Awokulehin of the Federal High Court, Asaba, sensationally acquitted him in December 2009.The commission challenged the ruling. That appeal is still pending before the Court of appeal, Benin City, Edo State.”

Reacting to Ibori’s plea, Anyakwee Nsirimovu, executive director, Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, IHRHL, commended the London Court for vindicating the civil society advocacy groups that have sustained the anti- corruption war.

He advised the federal government to urgently work out a transparent mechanism upon which stolen and laundered money, that would be repatriated should be meaningfully invested in the interest of the people of Delta State. “We seriously maintain that any mere return of the same to Delta State as presently constituted, would amount to returning the same sum to the convict, which object could have formed part of his reasoning to plea bargain and guilty plea. It is instructive that the government of Delta State, rather than raise a finger in condemnation of state resources stolen in eight years of terrible governance, have understandably remained orderly supportive of the fugitive convict,” Nsirimovu said.



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