|James Ibori was arrested on a British warrant in 2010 in Dubai, where he was trying to buy a jet worth $20m [AP]|
The former governor of Delta state has pleaded guilty in a British court to laundering millions of dollars in a rare case of a Nigerian politician being held to account for corruption.
James Ibori, a former governor of the oil-rich state, pleaded guilty on Monday to 10 counts of money-laundering and conspiracy to defraud. He pleaded not guilty to a further 13 similar charges. Sentencing will take place in April.
“There was effectively a thief in the government office of Delta State.”
– Prosecutor, Sasha Wass
British police accuse him of stealing $250m over eight years.
Ibori is a household name in Nigeria after two terms as governor from 1999 to 2007.
It was a different scene at Southwark Crown Court in London, where Ibori sat in the dock behind a glass partition as prosecutor Sasha Wass described his tenure as a time of “wide-scale theft, fraud and corruption”.
“There was effectively a thief in the government office of Delta state,” Wass told the court.
Among other crimes, Ibori admitted that he had conspired with others to pocket $37 million that should have gone into state coffers from the sale of shares it owned in the telecoms company V Mobile.
He had already left the UK in 2007 when his assets were seized but he was arrested in Nigeria later that year.
The charges were dismissed but he was then re-arrested in Dubai on a British warrant.
Ibori has been convicted in the UK before – in 1991 for stealing from a DIY store in London with his wife who worked as a cashier.
Trial cut short
Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID) said all funds recovered through the confiscation of Ibori’s assets would be given back to the people of Delta.
“Ibori … lived a life of luxury after he embezzled what the (police) estimate to be $250 million of Nigerian public funds – equal to $38 from every person living in the state at the time of his crimes,” the department said after the court hearing.
At the time of his arrest in Dubai, he had been trying to buy himself a private jet worth $20 million.
His case has enormous resonance in Nigeria, Africa’s biggest oil producer, where a small ruling class enjoys a jet-setting lifestyle while most of the 140 million Nigerians live in poverty with little or no access to power, health or education.
Ibori stepped down as governor of Delta, one of three big oil-producing states in the volatile region, after two terms because the law did not allow him to seek a third one.
His annual salary as state governor was less than $25,000.
In court on Monday, Ibori waved and smiled at supporters who crowded into the room, but spoke only to identify himself and enter his gulity pleas.
Ibori had been expected to face a 12-week trial involving dozens of witnesses, but after he entered his guilty pleas the prosecution said that he had in effect accepted the substance of the case against him and a full trial was no longer necessary.
The guilty pleas are the culmination of a seven-year inquiry into his affairs by British police.
Ibori’s wife, sister and mistress have already been convicted of helping him launder money in separate trials in London, but media had not previously been allowed to report on those convictions in order to avoid prejudicing Ibori’s own case.
Nigeria’s own anti-corruption agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), had tried to prosecute Ibori after he stepped down as governor and lost the immunity he had enjoyed while in office.
But the EFCC’s efforts to go after Ibori and other powerful politicians were hampered by what campaign group Human Rights Watch called “political interference, institutional weakness and inefficiency in the judiciary”.
The successful prosecution of Ibori will be a relief to British investigators who were thwarted in their 2005 attempt to bring to trial Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, another oil state governor suspected of money laundering.
Alamieyeseigha was charged with money laundering in London but he jumped bail and escaped back to his country dressed as a woman.