The former governor of Delta State, Chief JamesOnanefe Ibori has been released from prison. He was released a few minutes past noon upon a court order. His media aide, Mr. Tony Elumenor confirmed the release. Ibori was sentenced by a United Kingdom court to prison for 13 years and served out his term midnight yesterday. Expectation of his return home to Nigeria, however, remains murky as friends and associates many of who are gathered in London deliberate on the future of the former governor.
James Onanefe Ibori (born 4 August 1959) was the Governor of Delta State in Nigeria from 29 May 1999 to 29 May 2007. He is a member of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP)
Ibori’s corruption charges started with filling of petitions by his kinsmen, under the auspices of Delta State Elders and Stateholders Forum influenced by the foremost Ijaw leader, Chief E. K. Clark, OFR, CON who was also the former Minister of Information, the petition was sent to Nuhu Ribadu,the head of Nigeria’s financial crimes agencies who initially failed to act on the petition which made the Forum who with other activists revealed Ibori’s atrocities and made spirited efforts to drag Ibori and EFCC before court to compel Ibori’s prosecution.
In 2007, the Metropolitan Police raided the London offices of lawyer Bhadresh Gohil. Hidden in a wall behind a fireplace, they found computer hard drives containing details of a myriad off-shore companies, run for Ibori by Gohil, fiduciary agent Daniel Benedict McCann, and corporate financier Lambertus De Boer. All of these men were later jailed for a total of 30 years.
As a result of these corruption allegations, the United Kingdom courts froze Ibori’s assets there, valued at about £17 million ($35 million), in early August 2007. His wife, Nkoyo, was arrested at Heathrow Airport in London on 1 November 2007, in connection with the probe of the assets of her husband, particularly in the United Kingdom. She was released after being questioned. In an exclusive interview with CNN, Ibori denied allegations against him claiming they were politically motivated. He accused Nuhu Ribadu and the UK Courts of playing politics.
On December 12, 2007, Ibori was arrested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) at the Kwara State Lodge in Asokoro, Abuja. The charges he faces include theft of public funds, abuse of office, and money laundering. These corruption charges brought against Ibori by the government of former President Obasanjo are among many begun by anticorruption czar Nuhu Ribadu against former officials of the Peoples Democratic Party PDP. Ribadu additionally alleged that Ibori attempted to bribe him to drop the charges with a cash gift of $15 million, which Ribadu immediately lodged in the Central Bank of Nigeria CBN. The cash remains in the CBN as an exhibit.
On December 17, 2009, A Federal High Court sitting in Asaba, Delta State, discharged and acquitted Ibori of all 170 charges of corruption brought against him by EFCC. The EFCC filed a notice of appeal against the December 17, 2009 judgement, and has begun a new round of investigations on the former governor following a petition by members of the Delta State Elders, Leaders and Stakeholders Forum, which was made available to the public in March 2010.
In April 2010, about three months after the take over of government by Goodluck Jonathan, Ibori’s case file was reopened. A new allegation that he embezzled N40 billion ($266 million) was pressed against him. Attempts to arrest him were unsuccessful. It was reported that he fled from Abuja to Lagos and then to the creeks of Oghara, his homeland in the Niger Delta. It was reported that he has been guarded by armed militias and they once had a shoot out with government security forces. He claimed that the charges were frivolous and that he was a victim of political persecution.
In April 2010, Ibori fled Nigeria, prompting the EFCC to request the assistance of Interpol. On 12 July 2010 the Governor of the CBN, Malam Sanusi Lamido revealed that Ibori had used Delta State as collateral for N40 billion loan when he was governor.
On 13 May 2010, Ibori was arrested in Dubai, United Arab Emirates under Interpol arrest warrants, issued from United Kingdom courts and enacted by the Metropolitan Police. Ibori was granted bail pending an extradition hearing. A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police confirmed that the United Kingdom would “seek Mr Ibori’s extradition”.
The Nigerian government and the United Kingdom then agreed to work together on Ibori’s extradition to the United Kingdom even as his movement became restricted by the Dubai authority. Punch Newspaper however reported on 27 May 2010, that Ibori was seeking political asylum in Dubai.
Ibori’s case and extradition became one of the longest, most complex and expensive operations mounted by Scotland Yard in recent years. Prosecutors alleged that companies owned by Ibori and his family were beneficiaries from the sale of state assets, including shares in a mobile telephone operator, as well as crude oil deliveries. The EFCC confirmed on Thursday June 10, 2010, that Ibori was in custody awaiting extradition to the UK.
On 27 February 2012, accused of stealing US$250 million from the Nigerian public purse, Ibori pleaded guilty to ten counts of money laundering and conspiracy to defraud at Southwark Crown Court, London.
Following the guilty plea entered by Ibori, the EFCC brought before an Appeal Court the 6 year old ruling of a Federal High Court in Asaba which acquitted Ibori in 2009. They EFCC sought the court to set aside the ruling of the lower court on the grounds that the presiding judge, Justice Awokulehin, erred in law while delivering his judgement. A three-man panel of justices at the Benin Division of the Court of Appeal on May 15, 2014 ruled that the ex- governor has a case to answer. With this judgment, the coast is clear for Ibori to face further trial in Nigeria upon the completion of his jail term in London.
On Tuesday, April 17, 2012, Ibori was sentenced to 13 years by Southwark Crown Court for his crimes. Among possessions confiscated were:
- A house in Hampstead, north London, for £2.2m
- A property in Shaftesbury, Dorset, for £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 Continental GT
- A Mercedes-Benz Maybach 62 bought for €407,000 cash, that was shipped direct to his mansion in South Africa
After the sentencing hearing, Sue Patten, head of the Crown Prosecution Service central fraud group, said it would bid to confiscate the assets Ibori had acquired his riches “at the expense of some of the poorest people in the world”.