Vanguard (Lagos)

Nigeria: Locals Besiege UK Court for Ibori

London — Nigerians, yesterday, stormed the South Wark Crown Court in London where former governor of Delta State, Chief James Ibori was expected to be sentenced after pleading guilty to money laundering charges. Supporters of the former governor who came from Nigeria joined their compatriots living in UK to witness the sentencing proceedings and give him moral support.

As the court proceedings commenced two Queen's counsel, Sasha Weis and Nicholas Pennel, argued passionately before the court for and against the freedom of the former Governor of Delta State, Chief James Ibori until the judge, Justice Anthony Pitts, asked both parties to come today so that the defence can conclude its plea for mitigation of sentence before passing his sentence.

Chief Ibori had pleaded guilty to 10 out of the 23 count charges levelled against him on February 27, this year. Yesterday's rowdy sitting was for the prosecution to demolish any hope of him getting a light sentence following the plea bargain the former governor had agreed to.

In the Plea bargain arrangement Chief Ibori had pleaded guilty to the following: That between June 1, 1999 and May 2007 he conspired with Christine Omatie Ibori-Ibie, Odoamaka Onuigbo and others to defraud Delta State at the Oghara stadium, by dishonestly, among other matters:

•Being party to an inflated price fraud in respect of the contract for the building of a sports track for the Delta State Government at the Oghara stadium;

•Being a party to the provision of an inflated invoice fraud in respect of the supply of vehicles to the Delta State government

•Diverting cash from the Delta State treasury to his personal benefit and

•Continuing to run and profit from, undeclared businesses including known as MER Engineering Ltd and Koln Ltd.

Ibori's supporters in court

Despite Ibori pleading guilty to 10 of the charges, Sasha Weis, QC, who is leading the prosecuting team tore into him, yesterday, calling him a thief in Government House adding that he schemed his way to power just to defraud the people of Delta State. She even said that he forced people to call him 'His Excellency' which she said was unknown to the Constitution of Nigeria.

Before QC Sasha started her performance, Ibori's supporters had stormed the court as early as 7.00 a.m blocking the main entrance of the court 9 where the hearing took place. It took the intervention of the police to reduce the number of people allowed to enter to16, shutting the gates against scores of people who said they came to London just to watch the hearing. The people allowed into the hall apart from journalists were Emeyele, Igbuya, Faith Majemite, Emma Uduagham, (not Governor of Delta State); John Nani, Prince Abuteh, Odebala, Yingi, Henry Ofa, Lucky Ibori and Solomon Gulley. Youthful militant Emami Ayiri and a Delta State government official, Amori, were also allowed in while others were turned back.

Court began sitting at 11a.m

After the police had cleared the corridor the court that was supposed to start sitting at about 9 eventually began sitting at 11 am. Chief Ibori was brought into the court at about 11.07. Clad in a grey suit and a blue tie, he looked fit. Apart from the generous sprinkle of grey hairs on his head, there was no outward strain of the trial taking its toll on him. He waved vigorously at his supporters that were allowed to enter the court and even thumbed up to others telling them he was fine.

Immediately Justice Anthony Pitts, took his seat at about 11.15, Ibori who was put in a glass empanelled cubicle brought out his reading glasses and listened to Sasha rail endlessly against him. Somtimes he (Ibori) would shake his hand almost violently as a sign that he disagreed with what Sasha was saying. Tried as she could to draw out the defence team made of Nicholas Pernel, QC; Benjamin Aina, QC; Jonathan Akinsanya, Jonathan Epele, a solicitor and another solicitor Blanca Amauwah. Sasha said Ibori plotted everything before he became governor.

She said: "It is the prosecution case that during his two terms in office, he deliberatetely and systematically defrauded the people whose interest he had been elected to represent. The total sum that Mr Ibori has stolen remains unquantified. Investigation into his corrupt and fraudulent activities are still ongoing. However, the sums that are the subject of the two indictments to which Ibori had pleaded guilty amount to approximately £50 million. This sum represents a fraction of the total sum stolen by Ibori and those whom he engaged to assist him.

"The evidence makes it clear that Ibori planned his offences some considerable time in advance of his election to office. He did not become accidentially involved in a pre-existing culture of corruption. He changed his date of birth in 1996, three years before he was elected. This must have been done with the purpose of tricking his way into public office. The evidence demonstrates that from the moment Ibori was elected, he set about enriching himself at the expense of some of the poorest people in the world. His greed increased exponentially during the course of his governorship as did his arrogance."

Plea bargain arrangement

Sasha the Prosecutor told the judge that despite the plea Ibori had taken it was important to exhume some of the charges that had been dropped following the plea bargain arrangement.

She cited sections 182, 185, 151{1} as the Laws of Nigeria that Ibori violated.

Section 182 of the constitution bars anyone fronm contesting election if they had been convicted of any offence of dishonesty in the previous ten years before the election. She was refering to two convictions Ibori reportedly got in the UK between 1991 and 1992.

Ibori's lawyers argued that Ibori did not violate the constitution since a prisoners Rehabilitation of Offenders Act of 1984 nullified such convictions after five years.

Below is Sasha's case against Ibori

After Sasha had concluded her presentation, QC NIcholas Pennel told the judge that it was important for him to rebut some of the comments of Sasha. He told the judge that he had videos and BBC interviews to show that Ibori actually helped his people in terms of building infrastruacture and making democracy meaningful to them. He said a visit to Delta State would show what he did for his people.

At this point the judge interjected saying he was not interested in what Ibori did for his people since he was not there to confirm it. His interjection provoked a little argument between him and Ibori's lawyer who said that it was important for him to state Ibori's achievements since the prosecutor had accused him of stealing all the money.

Ibori's reply to Prosecution's submission

Addressing specific issues raised by Sasha, Chief Ibori in his reply said: "On the face of the Crown's case, the following deductions can be made:

•The extent of the fraud has dropped from billions of pounds to 250 million pounds and now 50 million pounds

Date of Birth: As you well know, the Nigerian authorities reserve the right to issue fresh/new passports at any time provided they are sufficiently satisfied that the applicant does not have another passport. In this case, the old passport was stolen with other documents in a briefcase by armed robbers on Lagos-Benin Road. The year of birth was wrongly written in the new passport which is not unusual in documentation even in London. My children's photos were switched in their American passport issued here in London. One of my daughters' age was also written wrongly in her Nigerian passport. The only way to correct this is by endorsement which was done in 1992 or thereabout. It is well known that I had no ambition in the early 1990s to contest for any elective office, any contrary suggestion is ridiculous. Sasha Wass keeps talking about my sister's DOB without even considering the option that we may have a family secret with respect to that. My defence team has a letter from UNIBEN stating my DOB on registration. That puts paid to the suggestion that my DOB was altered because of my ambition.

•On the issue of disclosure, Section 182 has been decided in various Nigerian cases. Secondly, an offence of dishonesty is spent after five years in the UK and there is no obligation as per disclosure by virtue of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1984. After five years, you may or may not disclose.

•My history with the Abacha Government is well documented. The Crown's dishonesty is that they admit my wealth pre-governorship when it suits their case and vice versa. Request for my Austrian and Citibank Account statements before governorship

•The Crown admits the payment came from MER Eng., that is, earnings from Shell, Chevron and NNPC.

•Property is owned by Anthony Prest - a Magistrate Court in SA has pronounced on this. The Crown has the documentation but fraudulently denies this position only to make me look bad.

•Car purchased as a gift for the King of Swaziland from MER proceeds in Swiss Bank - NNPC

•The crown acknowledges the deposit for this plane came from MER's Swiss Account $4.7M. Sasha repeats this over and over in the presentation

•On the issue of his excellency. How ridiculous. It demonstrates the Crown's pettiness.

•The V-moble case is still being investigated by EFCC because Obong Victor Attah went to court.

•Does it make sense to any Nigerian that if James Ibori wants to make money from government, it would be from kickbacks of contracts to his sister and the mother of his child. This is the extent of ridicule they want to destroy me. Bullet proof cars, stadium in my village.

Foreign travel allowance

•Note the 1.5 million pounds Barclays account over a period of six years. The account received my Foreign Travel Allowance for six years at $10,000 per night outside of Nigeria. Make a rough calculation. Hence it came in cash or travellers' cheques. No wire transfers as being suggested. I personally paid in this cash on arrival in the UK. Sometimes 10k, 20k, 30k, depends on what I have

•I have no idea of some of the companies and their owners. Not even my associates. This is one of the desperate attempts to increase the benefit figure for press purposes

•The crown acknowledges that substantial part of all the monies expended came from legitimate earnings of MER. Yet, Sasha goes on rehashing the figures for the press.

•I had enough money pre-governorship to purchase the property in London cash but was was advised by my solicitors to pay 50 per cent and obtain mortgages for the balance. To suggest that I was unable to pay the full amount at this time is absurd. Imagine her reference to The Diet newspaper. She claims I was not the publisher of The Diet.

Ads by Google

Copyright © 2012 Vanguard. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com). To contact the copyright holder directly for corrections — or for permission to republish or make other authorized use of this material, click here.

AllAfrica publishes around 2,000 reports a day from more than 130 news organizations and over 200 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Articles and commentaries that identify allAfrica.com as the publisher are produced or commissioned by AllAfrica. To address comments or complaints, please Contact us.