Thursday, April 21, 2011

Ibori appears in UK court, remanded in prison

THE Crown Prosecution Service in the United Kingdom (UK) has filed money laundering and fraud charges against James Onanefe Ibori at the Westminster Magistrate Court in London.

The charges also featured some other prominent Nigerians, including former Governor Victor Obong Attah of Akwa Ibom; David Edevbie, a former Principal Secretary to late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and a former Finance Commissioner during Ibori’s tenure as Delta State governor; Love Ojakovo, a former Commissioner of Finance in Delta State in the Ibori administration; and Henry Imashekka, a business associate of the former governor. These other defendants are currently at large.

During the first court appearance, only one charge was read to Ibori before he was remanded in prison.

Ibori is now in Wandsworth Category ‘B’ men’s prison, South-West London after he was successfully extradited to the UK on April 15 from the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Ibori fled Nigeria for Dubai on April 25, 2010 to evade arrest by operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on similar charges but shortly after arriving in the UAE, he was arrested by the INTERPOL and handed over to the UAE police in May 2010 at the request of the UK. The UK began extradition proceeding to bring him to trial in the UK in December 2011. He lost an appeal against his extradition to the UK.

He became the governor of Delta State in May 1999 and left on May 29, 2007. For years, the man, popularly known as “Sheik” or Odidigborigbo of Africa, eluded the authorities in the UK after they began investigating him for alleged graft running into million of dollars in assets that belonged to Delta State. The EFCC put the value of what Ibori stole at $290 million, but a Wikileaks cable recently disclosed that Ibori admitted to having up to $3.4 billion.

Already, Ibori’s sister, Christine Ibie-Ibori and his mistress, Udoamaka Okoronkwo, have been convicted for money laundering in the UK. They were each sentenced to five years in prison.  His wife, Theresa, was last year sentenced to between two to five years in prison for fraud and money laundering. His London lawyer, Mr. Bhadresh Gohil, was also sentenced to a seven-year jail term for fraud and money laundering.

Two former accomplices of the former governor had in January this year pleaded guilty to V-Mobile shares theft charges.

Daniel McCann and Mr. De Boer were charged for forgery and money laundering in relation to the sale of V-Mobile telecoms shares owned by Akwa Ibom and Delta states. They were accused of violating the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act of the UK by creating fake documents between Delta State and “Africa Finance Ltd,” and also between Delta and “African Development Company.”

They were also accused of creating a false account that used both men’s names as beneficiaries as part of a scheme to hide the fraudulent nature of the transactions.

Daniel McCann had pleaded guilty before the Southwark Crown Court judge while Mr. De Boer had pleaded guilty in a similar trial before Christmas 2010.

Gohil was convicted for participating in the laundering of funds realised from the sale of V-Mobile shares owned by the governments of Delta and Akwa Ibom.

The accused face 14 counts of forgery and money laundering in relation to the sale of V-Mobile telecoms shares by the two states. They reportedly used front companies to defraud the states of a total of $37.8 million realised from the sale of the shares.

Prosecutors allege that “Africa Development Finance Company” was the major conduit used to steal the funds.

In an instance cited in the case summary, prosecutors state that an $11 million loan was purportedly granted to an aviation company that assisted Ibori in purchasing a jet from Canada; $10 million was given to “Ascot Offshore Nigeria Limited,” the company that Ibori allegedly used to purchase Wilbros; and another $790,000 was granted to another fake firm “Africa Development Co.” and an offshore nominee firm.

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