25 August 2012

Nigeria: Ibori - British Govt Releases 2009 Letter of Tony Baldry

The British Government has finally released, but partly, the September 2009 letter on behalf of former Delta State governor James Ibori that it received from a Conservative Member of Parliament, Tony Baldry.

The letter, which ignited a Freedom of Information (FOI) controversy in 2010, demonstrates why Mr. Baldry did not want it in the hands of the public: while he did not make a direct case for Ibori or his associates, the letter was a disguised, intensely-sympathetic appeal to the government to intervene on their behalf.

The granting of the FOI request was made in a letter dated July 31, 2012, from Jonathan Drew, a Deputy Head of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, to author and blogger Richard Wilson.

In it, Mr. Drew said the decision to release Mr. Baldry's letter followed an internal review of the events of 2010, and that disclosure of the letter would, in fact, enhance public understanding of the UK's relationship with Nigeria. He also explained the decision to withhold certain portions of the letter, saying of those sections, "public interest in withholding this information is greater than the public interest in disclosing."

Mr. Baldry's letter to the government followed a meeting with the then Nigerian President, Umaru Yar'Adua. At that time the MP for Banbury, Baldry, now Sir Baldry, the Member for North Oxfordshire, wrote to the Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, at that time the Rt. Hon. David Milliband, MP, and it became quickly regarded in Nigeria as an effort to obstruct the trial of associates of Mr. Ibori.

The letter demonstrates a carefully-thought out attempt to sway thinking in government in favour of the former Nigerian governor and his associates in the UK, following an intense appeal to the MP by Mr. Yar'Adua, who was Ibori's friend and a political beneficiary. It is as yet unclear how Mr. Yar'Adua chose Baldry for his advocacy, but it seems as though the two men were brought together by Ibori himself.

"My understanding is that James Ibori faces no charges in the United Kingdom," Mr. Baldry wrote. "However, his wife and a number of people closely associated with him have been indicted to stand trial at Southwark Crown Court on a number of counts of offences allegedly against the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002."

According to Mr. Baldry in the letter, "Arising out of those proceedings the Courts made a fairly Draconian world-wide freezing Order on all of James Ibori's assets."

The MP lamented how the actions of the Crown Prosecution Service had inflicted "obvious and serious consequences for James Ibori and his ability to live his life day by day..."

Quick to stress he was not holding brief for any of the defendants, he was nonetheless armed with a good deal of information that was favourable to the former governor, and he reeled off some of the pertinent credentials, saying: "James Ibori is a public figure in Nigeria, a former Governor of Delta State, and still actively involved with the governing party of Nigeria."

Thus establishing that "He is not hard to find," Mr. Baldry wondered why "notwithstanding several visits to Nigeria by the Metropolitan Police, in connection with these matters, no attempt has ever been made to invite James Ibori's response to the allegations that have been made against him, or to give him an opportunity to put his side of the story..."

The MP then pitched: "I enclose a notarized statement, together with supporting documents, given by James Ibori, which he tells me is the first time that anyone has sought to listen to his explanation of what has occurred."

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