James Onanefe Ibori, the former Governor of Delta State was on Tuesday sentenced to 13 years imprisonment by a Southwark Crown Court in London for money laundering. He was accused of laundering over 157 million pounds sterling. Ibori’s trial and imprisonment has gone a long way in showing that the Nigerian justice system still has a long way to go. After his arrest in Nigeria years ago, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission dragged him to court for laundering over $ 250 million belonging to his home state where he reigned as Governor for eight years and a Nigerian court discharged and acquitted him of the 170 counts of corruption against him.
On Tuesday, Ibori was brought to court in a white prison van with tinted glass. When the trial opened, his lawyer tried currying some sympathy in his favour as he concluded his argument. He urged the court to consider the pressure on his client since 2005 when the investigation started. Ibori’s counsel, Nicholas Purnell urged the court to consider character before sentencing his client. He told the court that Ibori was employed as an Ambassador with expertise in combating drug trafficking and money laundering for which Late Gerneral Abacha sent him to the US. The court was however made aware that for that service, Ibori was paid $15 million. Ex professional footballer, John Fashanu too was in court as he stood as character witness for the embattled former Governor. Fashanu tried to outline what he described as Ibori’s achievements which he said included the building of a shooting range of international standard on scrub land. The former Wimbledon of England striker said Ibori built the range when shooting had not become a competition in Nigeria. He also said as Delta State Governor, Ibori spent money on sports and built a number of stadia including the ones the one in which talents like Austin Jay Jay Okocha were discovered. Nigerians in the court were however quick to remind themselves that Okocha first played for Nigeria at the U-20 African Youth Championship in Mauritius in 1993, six years before Ibori became Governor, so he could not have been discovered in a stadium built by Ibori. Moreover, Okocha was based in Enugu as a youth and not in Delta State.
The lead prosecutor, Sasha Wass had told the court on Monday that “Ibori lived and behaved like a billionaire”. She also stated that Ibori who was once unable to afford to pay his monthly mortgage went on to live the live of a property tycoon as he “lived like royalty”. She further disclosed to the court that Ibori acquired a new passport with a new date of birth in order to disguise two previous convictions for fraud and theft in the United Kingdom.
The Laed Prosecutor also told the court how Ibori went on a property buying spree. The first was a house in London, England valued at nearly £7 million. He also bought another one in London and one in Dorset near the expensive private school where his three children were enrolled. The former Governor also owns real estate in South Africa and Houston, TX, USA.
The Man James Ibori
James Onanefe Ibori, 54 was born to the family of Chief Ukavbe Ibori and Mrs. Comfort Oji Ibori of the Oghara cxlan in Ethiope West Local Government Area of Delta State.
He attended Baptist High School (now Oghareki Grammar School) after which he proceeded to the University of Benin where he obtained a Bachelors degree in Economics and Statistics.
After graduation, Ibori was employed as a staff of Mobil Oil Nigeria Limited from where he was seconded to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) as one of the pioneer staff of the company’s Marketing Department at the Warri Refinery and Petrochemical Company.
During the Abacha years, Ibori warmed himself into the heart of the Head of State as he served as a consultant to the Federal Government in the areas of public policy formulation and implementation
His Political Life
Ibori’s political journey started in 1990 when he joined the National Republican Convention (NRC). He contested for the Ethiope Federal Constituency seat in the House of Reps but lost. When General Abacha flagged off his transition programme, Ibori pitched his tent with tent with the Grassroots Democratic Movement (GDM). When the transition however ended abruptly with the demise of the then Head of State, General Abacha, Ibori and some members of the GDM went ahead to form the Delta National Congress (DNC) which later fused into the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
On January 9, 1999, James Ibori was elected as Governor of Delta State and four years later, he was re-elected both times on the platform of the PDP.
Ibori’s political life was not all rosy though as his election was challenged in 2003 when it was alleged that he had once been convicted for stealing. Ibori however scaled that hurdle when another James Onanefe Ibori, who claimed to be a tanker driver, surfaced and claimed that he was the James O. Ibori that was convicted.
How He Blew Delta State’s Money
Most of the funds Ibori looted went into real estate. He had expensive homes in England, South Africa and the United States. Apart from real estate, Ibori is known to be a car freak. He loved auto mobiles. By 2007, the former Delta State Governor had spent £170,000 on cars, paid school fees of £143,000, and expended £920,000 on an American Express “centurion” card, the credit card for the incredibly wealthy. One of Ibori’s favourite vehicles was said to be a £120,000 Mercedes Maybach which he bought for use whenever he visited his South African mansion. Ibori was also in the process of buying a £20 million challenger jet while being investigated by the UK police.
His relatives also aided him in the grandiose looting of his home state. His wife and his mistress particularly helped him launder millions. He was eventually introduced to Badrash Gohil, a lawyer whose area of specialisation is money laundering by Obong Victor Attah, the then Governor of Akwa Ibom State. Gohil helped Ibori to set up Swiss bank accounts and trusts in the tax havens of the Seychelles as well as the Channel islands in order to hide his thieving.
The former Governor also had funds stashed in various bank accounts across the world. He had €20 million in a trust fund called Zircon in the Channel island of Guernsey, while £1 million was kept in another trust called Onyx. His 6 accounts in Barclays Bank in London held over £1million in total. He was also accused of using Gohil’s client account to launder money as well as his account in Colorado.
The Loot That Got Him Into Trouble
Though prosecutors say Ibori’s loot can hardly be quantified, as far back as August 2007, his assets valued at about £ 17 million were frozen by the British Government sequel to allegations of corruption against him. Ibori’s road to prison apparently started with his wife’s arrest at Heathrow Airport on November 1, 2007 in connection with the investigations of corruption against her husband. She was released after a questioning session.
Ibori stunned the world when he appeared on CNN and described the allegations against him as being politically motivated. He did not spare Nuhu Ribadu, the then Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the British Courts the scourge of his tongue as he accused them of playing politics.
Nigerians were surprised by the news of the arrest of Ibori who was known to be one of those who bankrolled the election of the then President, Umar Yar’Adua. The EFCC arrested him on the 12th December, 2007 at the Kwara Government Lodge, Asokoro, Abuja.
Charges of money laundering were filed against him. Malam Nuhu Ribadu further worsened the situation when he alleged that Ibori offered him a cash gift of $ 15 million to drop the case against him.
How He Wriggled Out…
When Ibori was arrested, there had been speculations that he would come out unscathed. Indications started to emerge when his trial started in Kaduna. Whenever he appeared in court, the atmosphere was always like if the session was being held within Ibori’s stronghold. His supporters were willing to do anything, even going naked to press home their demands.
Before long, Ibori got his wishes to have the case transferred to Asaba, Delta State. On December 17, 2009, a High Court sitting in Asaba discharged and acquitted him of 170 counts of money laundering brought against him by the EFCC.
… His Journey To Prison
Ibori’s case was reopened in April 2010 with fresh charges that he misappropriated about $ 266 million. Seeing the handwriting on the wall, the former Governor chose to “dialogue with his feet” and he was simply unavailable whenever an attempt was made to arrest him. His stealth moves saw him leaving Abuja for Lagos unnoticed and from there he slipped into the creeks in Oghara where he was born. On an occasion, the EFCC reportedly came close to arresting him but the firepower of his private guards was more than what the federal agents could bear.
Towards the end of April, news started filtering in that Ibori, who by then had become “Nigeria’s Most Wanted Man” had fled the country.
A twist however emerged in the saga when Ibori was arrested in the United Arab Emirates by INTERPOL based on an international arrest warrant issued by the British Government over money laundering charges. After the arrest, the authorities in the United Kingdom sought his extradition to the UK. The bail granted him by the United Arab Emirates was summarily revoked and he was taken back into custody.
Meanwhile, prior to Ibori’s extradition to the UK, his associates, family members inclusive had been
It further became obvious that Ibori was going down in June, 2010 when his sister, Christine Ibie-Ibori and one of the former Governor’s acquaintances, Udoamaka Okonkwo were found guilty of helping him to launder money and were sentenced to 5 years imprisonment each by the Southwark Crown Court.
Those expecting huge legal fireworks in the Ibori saga were disappointed when Ibori pleaded guilty to 10 counts of money laundering and conspiracy to defraud before the Southwark Crown Court on 27the February, 2012.