T he former Governor of Delta State , Chief James Onanefe Ibori’s name resurfaced in the news last Monday when the Southwark Crown Court in London began a confiscation hearing to determine the amount of assets owned by him.
The court heard that Ibori, who is serving a jail term in the United Kingdom prison following his conviction on fraud and money laundering in 2012, hid some of his assets in Oando Plc, a rich Nigerian oil firm, and that funds were moved from the company’s accounts into Ibori’s Swiss accounts.
The confiscation hearing at London’s Southwark Crown Court will give room for prosecutors to present evidence of Ibori’s assets and seek court orders to have them seized. Defence lawyers will dispute the prosecution case, if the need arises.
Prosecutor Sasha Wass told the court that she would be presenting evidence that Ibori had “asserted ownership of a large part” of Oando, Nigeria’s biggest homegrown oil firm which is listed in Lagos, Johannesburg and Toronto.
“The Crown will assert that Oando is a company where James Ibori has hidden assets,” Wass said, giving no further details. The matter was raised briefly as part of an initial discussion of various aspects of the confiscation hearing. Details are expected to be disclosed later in the proceedings. Oando is not a party to the case, although a British lawyer was in court representing the company’s interests.
Also on Wednesday, it was revealed how Ibori used frontmen and shell companies to acquire a hidden stake in privatised fertilizer company, Notore.
British police detective, Constable Peter Clark told a London court at the continuation of asset confiscation hearings concerning Ibori’s conviction that he had bought two apartments in Washington in 2001 worth a total of $4.43 million, previously unknown-assets to add to a list of six other Ibori properties in four countries worth $11 million.
The court was shown footage of one of the properties, a palatial residence in the Nigerian capital Abuja, complete with marble columns, crystal chandeliers and a private gym. Clark, who has investigated Ibori’s finances since 2005, said the ex-governor was linked to Notore via a shell company incorporated in Mauritius and a circle of associates.
“It is my belief that James Ibori has some sort of hidden interest in the company Notore,” Clark said. Like any human being would like to distance himself from a leper, the two companies, Oando and Notore denied that Ibori had substantial interest in them.
Oando through its Head of Investor Relations, Tokubo Akindele in an advertorial placed in several Nigerian newspapers said “James Ibori does not own a large part of Oando and that Oando is listed on the Nigerian and Johannesburg Stock Exchanges and does not and cannot control the trading in its securities on the floor of the respective exchanges.
Based on our current shareholding register, Mr. James Ibori’s shareholding stands at 443 shares out of a total issued and paid up share capital of 6.8bn ordinary shares which is clearly insignificant” A spokesman for Notore who was present in court on Wednesday denied that Ibori had hidden assets in the firm.
“He does not own shares in the company and no other shareholder or shareholders hold shares for him in trust so far as the company is aware,” the spokesman said, asking not to be named. Notore, which is not listed, grew out of the stateowned fertilizer company, NAFCON, which went bust in 1999.
Clark told the court that the police had seized five files labelled NAFCON that linked Ibori to Notore at the office of London lawyer, Bhadresh Gohil, who is serving a 10- year jail term for his role in laundering Ibori’s millions.
Gohil had incorporated a company in Mauritius under the name Notore Chemical Industries Mauritius Ltd, which Clark said appeared to be a shell company that would own part of Notore, Clark said. Gohil had written in 2005 to Jite Okoloko, now chief executive of Notore, asking him to “confirm your instructions” regarding NAFCON and giving bank coordinates for transfers.
Gohil also wrote a memo about a visit he made to Lagos in 2005 during which he took part in a meeting with Ibori, Okoloko and Henry Imasekha, who is named as a co-conspirator in one of the two British indictments against Ibori, Clark said. Gohil’s memo stated that the men discussed how equity in Notore would be split among various shareholders.
They put the value of the company once it would be up and running at $1.2 billion. A separate diagram drawn up by Gohil was described by prosecutor Sasha Wass as a “route map for the ownership of Notore.”
It suggested that more than half of the firm, a stake valued at $39.7 million, would go to Ibori, Okoloko and Imasekha. Ibori, born on August 4, 1958, was the governor of oil rich Delta State between May 29, 1999 to May 29, 2007.
On December 12, 2007, he was arrested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) at the Kwara State Lodge in Asokoro, Abuja. The charges he faced include theft of public funds, abuse of office, and money laundering.
Nuhu Ribadu, the then EFCC boss, 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 the EFCC.
The EFCC filed a notice of appeal against the December 17, 2009 judgment and began further investigations. In April 2010, about three months after, when Dr. Goodluck Jonathan won election to be president, Ibori’s case file was re-opened.
A new allegation that he embezzled N40 billion ($266 million) was pressed against him. Attempts to arrest him were unsuccessful. In April 2010, Ibori fled Nigeria, prompting the EFCC to request the assistance of the Interpol.
On May 13, 2010, Ibori was arrested in Dubai, United Arab Emirates under Interpol arrest warrants, issued from United Kingdom courts and enacted by the Metropolitan Police. He was extradited to Britain.
On the 27th of February, he was accused of stealing US$250 million from the Nigerian public purse and Ibori pleaded guilty to 10 counts of money laundering and conspiracy to defraud, at the Southwark Crown Court On Tuesday, April 17, 2012, Ibori was sentenced to 13 years by Southwark Crown Court for his crimes.
At the time of Ibori’s sentencing in April 2012, Judge Anthony Pitts said the 50 million pounds that he had admitted to stealing may be a “ludicrously low” fraction of his total booty, which could be more than 200 million pounds.
The confiscation hearing which began last Monday will throw more light on the scale of Ibori’s wealth and will also determine whether he emerges from jail impoverished or still in possession of a fortune, large enough to regain a position of influence in Nigeria, once he leaves the London prison.