After about five years of playing cat and mouse with Nigerian and British authorities, former Delta State Governor James Ibori capitulated, pleading guilty in a London court to ten counts of money laundering and conspiracy to defraud before Judge Anthony Pitts. James Ibori admitted stealing $250 million, as alleged by the prosecution.
The Metropolitan Police accused James Ibori of spending some of the stolen money on six London homes, including a £2.2 million cash purchase of a Hampstead mansion, and enrolling his children in costly British private schools.
Sasha Wass, QC, a Crown Prosecution Service barrister, said in a brief argument that the prosecution was dropping James Ibori’s trial because the former governor had accepted the totality of the prosecution’s evidence as it has always been put forth.
According to the BBC news, the prosecution counsel told the court that James Ibori tricked his way into becoming Delta state governor by presenting a fake date of birth and saying he had no criminal record.
He was never the genuine governor, and the government house was essentially a robber. He was able to steal Delta state’s riches and dish out favours as a pretender to that public office. The huge quantities of money involved were used to support James Ibori’s luxurious lifestyle, the officer in charge of the inquiry, Paul Whatmore stated.
“We will now be aggressively seeking the confiscation of all of his stolen assets so they can be repatriated for the benefit of the people of Delta State.”
Paul Whatmore was also cited as suggesting that the money James Ibori stole should have been used to pay for sanitation, power, and healthcare for some of the world’s poorest people.
James Ibori was scheduled to be sentenced on April 16, 2022 and might face up to ten years imprisonment in the United Kingdom. The former governor’s guilty plea has brought him closer to prison and brought an end to years of high-wire legal and political intrigues around his massive theft of public monies and plot to avoid prosecution.
James Ibori escaped to Dubai, United Arab Emirates when the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) attempted to charge him with stealing monies from Delta State, where he served as governor for eight years.
He was later arrested in Dubai and extradited to London. James Ibori was transported to a West London police station where he had been detained upon his arrival in the city where he had lived and worked but had fought hard to escape for the last five years.
Both the MET and the EFCC started a separate prosecutions of James Ibori, who is suspected of stealing over N40 billion from Delta State finances, immediately after he left office as governor of Delta state in 2007.
Although he had become one of Nigeria’s most influential individuals at the time, after financing the election of late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, the EFCC, then led by Nuhu Ribadu, detained and prosecuted him. His detention without presidential consent allegedly irritated President Yar’Adua, who tactfully removed Mr Ribadu from his position by instructing him to continue his studies at the Nigerian Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies.
As Mr. Ribadu was out of the way, James Ibori returned to the reckoning when a Federal High Court in Asaba, set up unlawfully and expressly to trial him. They later declared that he had no case to answer. He dictated the shots in the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) had unrestricted access to the president and is said to have played a significant role in the selection of Mrs Farida Waziri as head of the EFCC, along with other past and present governors.
While the former governor walked free in Nigeria and loomed large in the political landscape, the MET remained focused, exploring every possible avenue to bring him to justice for the massive corruption he is suspected of committing.
But there was one stumbling block: Michael Aondoakaa, Nigeria’s minister of justice, through whom the MET had to channel their request for documented evidence of James Ibori’s wrongdoing.
The former minister refused to cooperate with investigators, instead, he put together a letter for the former governor’s lawyer stating that the former governor has not been tried or convicted by any court of law in Nigeria for any offence relating to money laundering or any other offences in connection with his acts and activities while in office as Governor of Delta State between 29th May 1999 to 29th May 2007.”
It was difficult to prosecute James Ibori in the UK due to Mr Michael Aondoakaa animosity against MET police and a lack of key evidence. While Nigeria prevaricated over James Ibori, portraying him as a type of hero, the United States, the United Kingdom, and other Western countries were outraged. At one time, the US withdrew its backing for the EFCC and engaged in a significant diplomatic confrontation with the Nigerian government over the issue. In a fit of rage, Washington directed its ambassador to avoid any contact with Mrs Waziri and the EFCC until James Ibori case was resolved.
The US ambassador to Nigeria, Robin Sanders, escorted Mrs Waziri out of a lunch meeting given by the then-foreign affairs minister, Ojo Maduekwe in March 2009. When Goodluck Jonathan visited Washington in 2009, shortly after becoming President following the death of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, he was informed unequivocally that he had to do something to bring James Ibori to justice.
The former governor was greatly concerned by America’s unwavering stance on his case. James Ibori addressed the US embassy in Nigeria through a proxy, promising to donate a large portion of his stolen billions to a trust fund that might support development projects, in a desperate attempt to impress the US and gain some relief.
According to a leaked U.S. diplomatic cable obtained by Wikileaks on September 24, 2009, James Ibori discussed a plan with the embassy in Abuja in which he would give up between 20 and 50 per cent of his wealth in exchange for pledges from other countries not to pursue him.
According to the cable, the former governor approached the embassy through a U.S. businessman and known lobbyist in the Washington, DC region, who assessed James Ibori’s stolen fortune at around $3 billion (N450 billion). Naturally, the embassy turned down the previous governor’s offer.
To avoid incurring American wrath, Goodluck Jonathan directed Mrs Waziri to launch a new offensive against James Ibori, who was, in any case, a prominent member of the cabal that attempted to prevent Goodluck Jonathan from becoming acting president even while Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was critically ill in a Saudi Arabia hospital and was no longer able to govern.
James Ibori was then accused by the EFCC for allegedly mismanaging N528 million in Delta State and shares with Oceanic Bank. When the commission sought to arrest him, James Ibori went into hiding and subsequently fled to Dubai, where Interpol Police apprehended him after the Metropolitan Police issued a warning and warrant for his arrest.
James Ibori battled hard in Dubai against his extradition to the United Kingdom, alleging that he fled Nigeria to avoid political persecution. Babafemi, the EFCC’s spokesperson, stated that his agency had to rush certain key papers to Dubai to back the MET’s allegation that James Ibori was a fugitive from justice.
The extradition procedure was successful. Even when a Dubai court decided in favour of his extradition, James Ibori attempted additional legal manoeuvres to delay the process. He was conditionally freed for medical treatment at one time, which provided him with some brief comfort. However, the Dubai authorities seized his travel documents, making it difficult for him to escape the country.
The trial of what has come to be known as the Ibori clan has gone full circle with his capitulation. On June 8, 2010, Judge Christopher Hardy of a Southwark London Crown Court sentenced Christine Ibori-Ibie, the former governor’s sole surviving sister, and Udoamaka Okoronkwo-Onuigbo, an accomplice, to five years in jail. The punishment followed court judgments on June 1 and June 2, 2010 that found Ms Ibori-Ibie and Ms Okoronkwo-Onuigbo guilty of money laundering and mortgage fraud.
Five months later, on November 23, 2010, James Ibori’s wife, Theresa Ibori, was sentenced to five years in prison by a London jury after being found guilty on a two-count allegation of money laundering. James Ibori’s attorney, Bhadresh Gohil, who went on trial with the former governor’s wife, was also sentenced to seven years in prison on a similar allegation of money laundering.
After several years of playing cat and mouse with Nigerian and British authorities, former Delta State Governor, James Ibori pleaded guilty in a London court to ten counts charges of money laundering and conspiracy to defraud before Judge Anthony Pitts. James Ibori admitted stealing $250 million, as alleged by the prosecution. James Ibori has been scheduled to be sentenced on April 16, 2022 and might face up to ten years imprisonment in the United Kingdom.