A British prosecutor on Monday charted the extraordinary rise of James Ibori from a petty thief in London to a powerful governor in Nigeria, describing a web of bogus firms he used to buy mansions and luxury cars in Britain with his stolen
Ibori, who was governor of the oil-producing state of Delta in southern Nigeria from 1999 to 2007, has pleaded guilty to 10 corruption charges, admitting he stole approximately 50 million pounds ($79 million) from Delta state’s coffers.
The case is being avidly followed in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, where Ibori used his clout and wealth as governor of Delta to position himself as a power-broker in national politics.
He is the most high-profile Nigerian politician to be successfully prosecuted for corruption, a problem that has blighted the country since independence from Britain in 1960.
“From the moment Ibori was elected, he set about enriching himself at the expense of some of the poorest people in the world,” said prosecutor Sasha Wass at the start of Ibori’s two-day sentencing at Southwark Crown Court in London.
“His greed increased exponentially during his governorship, as did his arrogance,” she said, before launching into a detailed account of how he acquired a Bentley, a Jaguar, a Maybach 62 and a portfolio of six foreign properties including mansions in England, the United States and South Africa.
Ibori sat in the dock behind a glass partition, flanked by a police officer, while Wass spoke. It was a humiliation for a man accustomed to being addressed as “Your Excellency” and used to being courted by crowds of people seeking his patronage.
The main charges to which he pleaded guilty on February 27 were money-laundering and conspiracy to defraud, for which the maximum penalties are 14 and 10 years in prison respectively. Judge Anthony Pitts is expected to hand down Ibori’s sentences on Tuesday.
London’s Metropolitan Police, which has been investigating him since 2005, estimates he embezzled at least 150 million pounds during his eight-year tenure.
An attempt by Nigeria’s homegrown anti-corruption force to prosecute Ibori after he stepped down was unsuccessful, but he was arrested in 2010 in Dubai on a British warrant and extradited to London a year later.
Ibori’s criminal career started small, when he was caught in 1991 stealing from a till while working as a cashier at Wickes, a home improvements store, in London. In 1992, he was convicted again, this time for handling a stolen credit card.
Ibori then returned to Nigeria where he became involved in politics. Wass said that in 1996, he fraudulently changed his year of birth in his passport from 1962 to 1958 to make it harder for anyone to uncover his UK criminal convictions. If disclosed, they would have disqualified him from running for state governor in 1999.
As a founding member of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which has ruled Nigeria since the 1999 transition from military to civilian rule, Ibori swiftly established himself as a rich and powerful figure in the new ruling elite.
Officially, his salary as governor was 4,000 pounds a year, but within two years of taking office Ibori paid 2.2 million pounds in cash for a house in upmarket Hampstead in north London. Other properties purchased later included a country mansion in Dorset, southwest England, close to Port Regis, the private school where his three daughters were being educated.
The Jaguar and Bentley were kept at his Hampstead house, while the Maybach 62 was shipped to his South African address.
In 2007, when British police froze some of Ibori’s assets in a London court, he was attempting to purchase a private Bombardier Challenger jet worth $20 million for his private use.
“From starting off as a petty thief with his hand in the till at Wickes, who could not afford his monthly mortgage repayments, he ended up as a property tycoon who led the lifestyle of royalty,” said Wass.
In 2010, Ibori’s wife, mistress, sister and lawyer were convicted and sentenced to prison terms during two separate trials in London for their role in helping him launder his money.
Ibori and his associates used a baffling array of shell companies registered in places like Gibraltar or the Virgin Islands to siphon money to and from bank accounts in Nigeria, Britain, Switzerland, the United States and elsewhere.
One Barclays account held at a branch in Knightsbridge, a posh area of London, was used to deposit wads of cash that over time amounted to over one million pounds. Other international banks named by Wass in her detailed account of Ibori’s transactions included HSBC, Citibank and Schroders.
“What is striking about this case is how seemingly easy it was for Ibori to access the British financial system. The likes of Barclays and HSBC were taking money from him and his associates which raises serious questions about what checks they were making,” said Robert Palmer, of anti-corruption group Global Witness, who was in court during Monday’s proceedings.
Ibori’s senior defence counsel, Nicholas Purnell, began outlining what he said were mitigating factors for the court to consider. He said Ibori had shown courage by pleading guilty and had done some good things for Delta state when he was governor.
Purnell is due to complete his submission on Tuesday before sentencing.
…End Of The Road For Ibori, As Judge Jails Him For 13 Years
Southwark Court judge, Justice Anthony Pitts, today sentenced former Delta State governor, Chief James Ibori to 13 Years in prison. Ibori, a former Wickes cashier who became governor oil-rich Delta state was part of a scam which plundered N40 billion
from his fellow Nigerians. He personally pocketed N13Billion which he splashed on a life of luxury including his own private jet.
The court reconvened court this afternoon at 2:30pm, after Justice Anthony Pitts went on break after the defense had concluded its plea for mitigation of sentence.
John Fashanu, a former Premiership footballer was in court to give character witness on behalf of Ibori. He says James Ibori is a good Man, who helped build stadium for less privileged.
John Fashanu testifying for Ibori saying, the former governor achieved a lot in sports and was instrumental to the end of militancy in his state.
A letter from a traditional ruler in Delta State acknowledging Ibori’s achievements was also admitted and read in court.
But Justice Piit was not moved as he jailed Ibori for 13 years after he had admitted 10 counts of conspiracy to defraud and money laundering.
Southwark Crown Court was told the amount he stole from the people of Delta state was “unquantified”.
Ibori, who evaded capture in Nigeria after a mob of supporters attacked police, was arrested in Dubai in 2010 and subsequently extradited to London.
He was extradited to the UK, where he was prosecuted based on evidence from the Metropolitan Police, who estimated he stole $250m (£160m) from state coffers.
One of the counts Ibori admitted related to a $37m (£23m) fraud pertaining to the sale of Delta State’s share in Nigerian privatised phone company company V Mobile.
He was governor of Delta State between May 1999 and May 2007.
Sasha Wass, QC, prosecuting, told the court Ibori “deliberately and systematically” defrauded the people he was elected to represent.
The court heard he came to the UK in the 1980s and worked as a cashier at a Wickes DIY store in Neasden, north west London.
He was convicted in 1991 of stealing from the store but then returned to Nigeria and began his climb up the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) network.
Ibori, 49, an ex-governor of Delta State with presidential aspirations, stole public funds for a ‘lavish and expensive lifestyle’.
His spending included a portfolio of luxury houses, a £12.6million private jet, a fleet of top-of-the-range cars, top UK boarding school places for his children, first-class travel and posh hotels.
As his people struggled in poverty, Ibori’s monthly credit card bills alone topped £125,000.
It is estimated that the embezzlement from the Delta state is yet unquantified, but could exceed £157million which was laundered in London through a number of off-shore companies.
The case at Southwark Crown Court was delayed yesterday morning after a ruckus broke out in the corridor and police had to be called in to control crowds of his supporters.
Prosecutor Sasha Wass was thrown to the floor as supporters tried to rush into the tiny courtroom.
She told the hearing: ‘The defendant was governor of the Delta State, one of the richest oil producing states in Nigeria, between November 1999 and May 2007.
‘It is the prosecution case that during his two terms in office he deliberately and systematically defrauded the people whose interests he had been elected to represent he went on to launder the money he stole in this country.’
He inflated state contracts, took kickbacks, and through bent employees stole cash straight from the State accounts and secreted the cash into off-shore accounts across the globe.
Instead of using the money to help his people, he bought a £2.2 mansion in Hampstead with cash, a house in Regents Park, a flat in St John’s Wood, a £311,000 home in Dorset and a £3.2million mansion in Johannesburg, as well as a house in Houston.
His ‘greed and acquisitiveness’ was also represented by his fleet of armoured Range Rovers worth £600,000, a £120,000 Bentley, a Jaguar for his Hampstead home and a Mercedes Maybach bought for 407,000 Euros that was shipped direct to his mansion in South Africa, Ms Wass said.
At an earlier hearing, Ibori pleaded guilty to ten offences – eight of money laundering, one of conspiracy to defraud Delta State and one of conspiracy to forge.
Nigerian-born Ibori moved to the UK in the 1980s where he married his wife, Theresa, and worked as a cashier at Wickes in Ruislip, Middlesex, earning around £15,000 a year before the couple were arrested for theft from the store in 1990 and fined £300.
A year later, he had another brush with the law when he was convicted of handling a stolen credit card and fined £100 before he moved back to his homeland and started as a ‘policy consultant’ for President Sani Abacha’s regime before climbing the ladder of the ruling People’s Democratic Party.
After lying to the independent Nigerian Election Commission by using a fake date of birth gained through a false passport to hide his previous convictions and financial status, Ibori was elected as state governor for Delta State from 1999 – giving him immunity from prosecution for his two terms until 2007.
Ms Wass described it as ‘planned fraud’. She said: ‘He didn’t accidentally become involved in a pre-existing corruption, he changed his date of birth in 1996.
‘From the moment he was elected, he set out enriching himself at the expense of some of the poorest people in the world.
‘His greed increased exponentially during the course of his governorship as did his arrogance.’
It was heard that he tried to pay a $15m bribe to a government official to make the corruption investigation ‘go away’.
Even after he began to be investigated in 2005, Ibori involved himself in another ‘massive fraud’ and tried to bribe Nigerian officials, interfere with the trial and impugn the integrity of the officers.
He was helped by family members, including his wife, sister Christine Ibori-Ibie, his mistress Udoamaka Oniugbo, and a series of corrupt professionals – a London-based lawyer, Bhadresh Gohil, who acted as his banker and set up a myriad of off-shore companies, a fiduciary agent, Daniel Benedict McCann, a corporate financier, Lambertus De Boer – who have all been jailed for a total of 30 years.
His fraud unravelled when the Met raided the office of ‘trusted servant’ Gohil, 47, who has since been jailed for 10 years, and found hard drives containing detailed records hidden in the wall behind a fire place.
A series of trials have taken place leading to six convictions and sentences totalling 30 years but Ibori has made a number of attempts to disrupt the course of justice, Ms Wass said.
When he was arrested in Nigeria in 2007, the High Court froze assets worth £35million despite him only earning around £4,000 a year. A court later dismissed the charges and he fled to Dubai where he was arrested by the Met.
He was trying to purchase a $20million jet when he was arrested.
Ibori’s defense team includes Nicholas Pernel, QC; Benjamin Aina, QC; Jonathan Akinsanya, Jonathan Epele, a solicitor and another solicitor Blanca Amauwah.