Daily Champion (Lagos)

Nigeria: London Court Jails Ibori's Wife For Five Years

Former first lady of Delta State, Chief (Mrs.) Theresa Nkoyo Ibori has bagged a five-year jail term for money laundering.

Reports monitored on www.saharareporters.com yesterday said a London jury in her Southwark Crown Court trial returned a guilty verdict against her.

Mrs. Ibori was found guilty on two counts of money laundering while her husband's United Kingdom (UK) lawyer, Mr. Bhadresh Gohil, who was on trial with her, was also found guilty on all counts of money laundering. He has been remanded in police custody.

Gohil will be sentenced after the conclusion of another trial involving the laundering of proceeds of V-Mobile shares by James Ibori, Henry Imashekka, David Edevbie and former Akwa Ibom governor, Victor Attah. The trial, according to the report, will open on Monday.

The court had, in a previous trial, sent Ibori's sister, Christine Ibori-Ibie, and his mistress, Udoamaka Okoronkwo-Onuigbo to jail. They will be joined in jail by Mrs. Ibori.

UK authorities are also awaiting final outcome of an appeal against an extradition ruling against Ibori, in the United Arab Emirate.

In the course of the trial, attempts by Mrs. Ibori's lawyers to make her escape justice failed at her prosecutors painted a detailed portrait of her detailed role in her husband's looting of public funds. The prosecutors also implicated Emmanuel Uduaghan in the multiple fraudulent deals through which Mr. Ibori looted the treasury.

Lead prosecutor Sasha Wass, told the jury that Mrs. Ibori paid £2.2 million pounds in cash for a swanky home in Hampstead less than two years after her husband's inauguration as governor. Wass told the jury that not only did Ibori obtain the house by fraudulent means but also that Mrs. Ibori was aware of it since her husband put her in charge of the transaction.

The Crown prosecutors described the fraudulent acquisition of the Hampstead property as the beginning of Mrs. Ibori's rise to extreme wealth.

Wass asked the jury to consider the Iboris' criminal record, including their conviction in the UK for alleged petty theft a few years before Mr. Ibori maneuvered his way into the governor's mansion in Asaba. Prosecutors also laid out how US authorities investigated Ibori's million-dollar deposit in a US bank in 1994. She told the jury that US law enforcement agents concluded that Ibori lied when he claimed to have received the funds for consultancy work. Earlier, Ibori had forfeited $400,000 out of the $1 million to the United States (US) government.

A legal analyst in court said the prosecution "did a superb job of portraying Mr. and Mrs. Ibori as a tag-team criminal partnership." He added: "Money is seized in the US only when there's probable cause -or what UK law calls reasonable suspicion."

UK prosecutors told the jury that Ibori was asked to provide evidence of the legitimacy of the funds, but he opted to part with a huge chunk of it in order to settle the case. Ms. Wass said the transaction marked Ibori's entrance into the criminal big leagues. She also observed that contrary to Mrs. Ibori's attempt to deny knowledge of Ibori's criminal activity, the former First Lady was fully aware of her husband's illicit financial deals in the US as well as the UK.

Ms. Wass reminded the jury that Mrs. Ibori went along with her husband's decision to falsify his date of birth in order to conceal his criminal past and convictions in the UK. Under cross-examination, Theresa Ibori had acknowledged that she found her husband's action to be wrong, but said it was against the tradition in her adopted culture to challenge him. However, Ms. Wass reminded the jury that Mrs. Ibori had indeed challenged her husband on other issues.

Prosecutors revealed how Mr. Ibori made misleading declarations of his assets. He did not declare his foreign bank accounts. In 1999 he only declared his homes in Nigeria as well as a flat in Abbey Road, St Johns Wood area in London. For cash in bank, he declared a debt of more than N1 million while cash in hand was about N400, 000 thousand. In 2007, Mr. Ibori declared another house in London, but understated its value. Even though the house was worth £3 million, Ibori declared it as worth £300,000.

Prosecutors accused the former governor, with his wife's knowledge, of systematically misstating the value of his property. They also told the jury that, by 2007, Mr. Ibori had added three more properties in the UK as well as homes in Texas and South Africa. He also had established a series of off shores trust funds in safe haven islands for himself, his wife and children. Yet, in his assets declaration form in Nigeria, when he was asked to indicate cash abroad, he entered "non-applicable."

Ms. Wass revealed how Mr. Ibori established several companies, including MER Engineering, and used them as fronts to award contracts to himself. Ibori's companies also received contracts and revenues from the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation.

Investigators accused Emmanuel Uduaghan, who prior to 2007 served as secretary to the state government (SSG), of facilitating the illicit deals. Most of the contracts that went to one of Ibori's front companies -Sagicom, Rivbed or Sigares - were heavily over-inflated. Prosecutors revealed that most of the contracts were for N1.8 billion or above, including for the supply of fine wine and beverages.

Ms. Wass said Ms. Okoronkwo was responsible for transferring the proceeds out of Nigeria where the funds were invested for Ibori. Ms. Okoronkwo was also often used as a conduit to pay for Ibori's properties in the UK. It was revealed that, by the end of 2003, Okoronkwo had deposited more than £3 million in the trust fund that was meant to benefit Theresa, her children and Mr. Ibori. Sagicom was the corporate vehicle Okoronkwo used to channel the funds.

Prosecutors showed that Ms. Okoronkwo engaged in forgery of documents on her computer that Mr. Ibori then signed. The forged documents were meant to deceive bankers in the UK as well as safe havens around the world. Ms. Wass said Okoronkwo worked for both James and Theresa Ibori, dismissing Mrs. Ibori's suggestion that she and Udoamaka were fighting over Mr. Ibori. Instead, according to Ms. Wass, the two women helped the same man to siphon money that belonged to the people of Delta State and Nigeria.

On a day filled with legal drama, including defense protests that the prosecution had unfairly tarred Mrs. Ibori by tying her to the convicted Udoamaka Okoronkwo, prosecutors also pressed their case against Ibori's attorney, Bhadresh Gohil. Mr. Gohil, who decided not to testify after observing the methodical way the prosecution dismantled Mrs. Ibori during cross-examination, was described as Mr. Ibori's launderer-in-chief.

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