AFTER years of running, the long hands of justice caught up with the former governor of Delta State, James Onanefe Ibori, on Tuesday.
The Southwark Crown Court in London United Kingdom sentenced Ibori to 13 years’ imprisonment for fraud and corruption offences.
Our correspondent reports that Ibori may only spend about five years in prison because he has been in custody for two years and will be eligible for parole in about four years.
He will likely serve his term in Wandsworth, Prison. Wandsworth is the largest prison in the UK, currently able to hold 1,665 prisoners. It is also where Ibori was held while undergoing trial. His jailed lawyer, Bhadresh Gohil, is also serving his term in Wandsworth Prison.
After the sentencing, British judicial and security officials said they would soon commence confiscation proceedings to ensure that his stolen assets reverted to Delta State.
THE PUNCH learnt that the Crown Prosecution Service would soon launch a bid to seize Ibori’s stolen assets and return them to Delta State.
An official of the CPS told journalists that the service would bid to confiscate the assets Ibori had stolen and return them to the state.
One of the investigators, Detective Inspector Paul Whitmore, said it was estimated that Ibori stole around $250m from Delta State.
“The sum can only be described as huge. Vast sums of money which were used to fund his lavish lifestyle. The real harm in this case is the potential loss to people in some of the poorest regions in the world,” he said.
Whitmore said a confiscation proceeding would be launched to ensure that as much of the money as possible was returned to the state government.
Judge Pitts who said the court wasn’t even certain about the exact amount that Ibori had stolen expressed hope that new light would be shed on his theft during the confiscation proceedings.
“During those two terms (as governor) you turned yourself in very short order indeed into a multi-millionaire through corruption. The figure may be in excess of 200 million pounds, it is difficult to tell. The confiscation proceedings may shed some further light on the enormity of the sums involved,” he said.
In all, Judge Anthony Pitts said Ibori was guilty of 10 charges of money laundering and other fraudulent activities with total monetary value of $77m, about N12.17bn. The fraud sum excludes another 720,000 pounds (N183.6m) the ex-governor expended on exotic automobiles.
Some of the assets that might be confiscated are a house in Hampstead, North London, worth £2.2m; a property in Shaftesbury, Dorset, worth £311,000; a £3.2m mansion in Sandton, near Johannesburg, South Africa; a fleet of armoured Range Rovers valued at £600,000; a £120,000 Bentley; and a Mercedes Maybach worth 407,000 Euros.
Described as a “common thief” by prosecutor in the Crown Court, Sasha Weils, Ibori’s looting of Delta State was said to be “unquantifiable.”
Eminent Nigerians, including the Niger Delta leader and First Republic minister, Edwin Clark, on Tuesday praised the sentencing.
Ibori, who evaded capture in Nigeria was arrested in Dubai United Arab Emirates, in 2010. He was extradited from Dubai to the UK in April 2011.
Ibori’s wife, Theresa; sister, Christine Ibori-Idie; mistress, Udoamaka Okoronkwo; and a London-based solicitor, Bhadresh Gohil, have all already been convicted for their part in the money-laundering scam.
Investigators said as Delta State governor, Ibori had racked up credit card bills of $200,000 per month on a luxury lifestyle, including running a fleet of armoured Range Rovers. He was trying to buy a plane for £12m at the time he was arrested, Sky News reports.
Ibori admitted one count of conspiracy to launder money, five of money laundering and one of obtaining a property transfer by deception over the theft of more than £25m while he was governor of the region.
He also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud, conspiracy to make false documents, and one count of money laundering linked to a $37m (£23.3m) share fraud surrounding the sale of shares in a Nigerian company, V Mobile.
Sasha Weils, 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 Ruislip, north-west London.
He was convicted in 1991 of stealing from the store but then returned to Nigeria and contested the governorship on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party.
When he ran for governor he lied about his date of birth to hide his criminal conviction in the UK – which would have prevented him from standing for office, the British Broadcasting Corporation reports.
Ibori, whose address was given as Primrose Hill, north London, claims to be 53 but police in London say he is 49.
Before the sentencing, ex-international, John Fashanu, had appeared in court to testify as a witness in defence of Ibori.
“I found James Ibori a very humble person, a very giving person. Somebody who has revolutionised sports in Delta State,” Fashanu told Sky News, adding that the ex-governor is a good man.
Asked if Ibori should pay back the money, Fashanu added “anybody who does anything (wrong) should pay it back. Nobody’s denying that.”
by Ademola Babalola and Tayo Famutimi with agency report