The stench oozes from Southwark Crown

The stories coming out of the Southwark Crown Court, UK where jailed former Delta State governor, James Ibori is facing an asset seizure trial are not entirely new. They only serve as sad reminders of how a man, saddled with the constitutional responsibility to administer state’s resources to advance the course of good governance turned the the vast resources into personal estate.

For the whole of last week, attention practically shifted to the Southwark Crown Court, United Kingdom, where the jailed former governor of Delta State, James Onanefe Ibori is facing fresh trial by British prosecutors seeking the courts verdict to seize all assets, cash and properties traced to the former governor.

Daily, the prosecutors came up with stunning revelations about how the former oil-rich Delta State governor, and one of the most powerful state chief executives at the time virtually turned the state into his personal asset, embarked on a looting spree, stashing billions of naira both in cash and properties across the globe.

The fi rst of such stunning discoveries was the one that linked Nigeria’s integrated energy company, Oando Plc, which Ibori was alleged to have used as conduit pipe, to transfer huge sums into his Swiss accounts.

British prosecutor, Sasha Wasshad told the court that Ibori had told a Swiss private bank in 2004 that he owned 30 per cent of Oando, which paid $1.2 million into his account that year.

The court also heard that PKB Privatbank had in an internal document likened Ibori to a scion of the Kennedy dynasty in the United States and had opened an account at Luganobased PKB in the name of a shell company called Stanhope Investments.

Quoting from internal PKB documents, Wass told the court that Ibori had presented himself to the bank as the owner of an insurance company, half of a bank and 30 per cent of Oando.

She said that a total of $1.2 million fl owed into the PKB account from Oando in three payments that year which had later been channelled to other accounts and were part of funds intended for the purchase of a $20 million private jet.

Combined with Ibori’s track record of hiding his assets, Wasshad told the court that this led to the “irresistible inference” that Ibori had further hidden assets which investigators had not yet uncovered, she said, adding that one option of where these might be was Oando.

Oando, however, insisted that contrary to the claim that Ibori owns 30 per cent equity in the energy company, the former governor, “only has an insignifi cant share which is just 443 out of a total issued and paid up share capital of 6.8 billion ordinary shares.

Though it acknowledged transacting business with Ibori’s company, it however claimed that the facts were not known to it as at the time of the transaction. It said that the total amount of the transaction then stood at $2.7m made in three separate transactions over a period of about seven months but claimed that such transaction “was insignifi cant, considering the company’s turnover of about $800m as at 2004.”

Deputy Group Chief Executive, Mofe Boyo insisted that it has no control over who buys its shares, adding that the company has over 300,000 shareholders and as such, does not have any obligation or right to carry out any form of background check on them.

The Oando boss argued that the shareholding structure of the company is a public document available at the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) for any interested member of the public to verify. “The UK Police came to Nigeria during the course of investigation and I believe that they must have gone to NSE for fi ndings but my worry is why they have decided to distort the facts. But as it is, we don’t have a locus standi in this case because we are neither the accused nor defendant, “he said.

Boyo however, said that Oando was exploring the option of seeking legal interpretation on how best to seek redress based on the effect of what is going on in the court at the moment.

However, the spirited rebuttal offered by the oil company notwithstanding, Oando appeared to be the worst hit in the ongoing confi scation trial of Ibori as its share price on the fl oor of the Nigerian Stock Exchange for the better part of last week, embarked on a free fall forcing its management, led by Wale Tinubu to seek audience with stockbrokers to push the company’s position on the Ibori saga.

Last week, Oando shares dropped by 19.95 per cent, starting with a loss of 10 and 9.95 percentages on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively.

Tinubu had told stockbrokers on the fl oor of the Exchange that the company would publish names of shareholders on its website to ensure sustainable corporate governance. According to him, the publication of shareholders’ names is meant to stop people with `hot money’ from investing in the energy conglomerate.

Tinubu re-emphasised that Ibori owned only 443 shares in Oando Plc and not 30 per cent as alleged by UK Southwark Crown Court on September16, adding that, “Investors with stolen funds should not think of investing in Oando Plc because they will be exposed.’’

He said that the company had introduced stringent Know Your Client (KYC) process and would remain at the forefront of good corporate governance.

Similarly, the court also exposed how Ibori, in consortium with a group of business allies, owns more than 50 per cent of Notore Fertiliser Company, the company that acquired Nigeria Fertiliser Company, NAFCON in 2005 for $152 million.

Wass told the Crown Court that according to documents retrieved from Ibori’s infamous lawyer, Bhadresh Gohil, more than half the value of Notore valued at $39.7 million belongs to Ibori, Henry Imasekha and Jite Okoloko, the current Chief Executive of the fi rm.

According to Wass, a diagram drawn by Gohil intended to be a “route map for the ownership of Notore,” showed that Mike Orugbo, the front man used to acquire the company from the Nigerian government would get three per cent the value of the fi rm for his part in the deal.

Investigators of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission had also in the past linked Ibori to Notore through the use of Delta State funds.

Constable Peter Clark, who has been investigating the former governor since 2005, said Ibori’s interest in Notore was hidden through a shell company registered in Mauritius and a group of trusted associates.

Gohil, who is serving 10 years jail term for his role in helping Ibori in his grand rape of Delta State’s treasury, helped the former governor to incorporate the company known as Notore Chemical Industries Limited.

Clark also revealed that in 2005 Gohil had written Okoloko, asking him to “confi rm your instructions” regarding bank coordinates for transfers. He further revealed that Gohil wrote a memo about a meeting he held with Ibori, Okoloko and Imasekha during which the trio allegedly discussed that Notore equity be split put the value of the company, once it was operational, at $1.2bn.

But Notore immediately denied that the disgraced governor has any investment in the company.

A lawyer for the fi rm that was present in court said that Ibori has no investment whatsoever 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 lawyer said.

Part of what was revealed in the course of the ongoing three week confi scation trial was how the jailed former Delta governor offered Nuhu Ribadu, then chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), $15m (N2.34bn) cash bribe in 2007.

Ribadu who also appeared before the court, said he pretended to take the bribe because he wanted the cash as evidence to use against Ibori in a prosecution, but rather than keep the money for himself, he had it taken straight to the Central Bank of Nigeria to be kept safe in a vault.

Ribadu, told the court that about $1 billion fl owed from Federal Government accounts into Delta State coffers during Ibori’s eight years in power, and he estimated Ibori had stolen or wasted more than half of that amount.

Ribadu said that in late April 2007, a meeting was arranged between himself and Ibori at a “neutral place”, the house of Andy Uba, a close associate of former President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Ibori, according to Ribadu’s account, arrived at the house with several members of his staff and a very large black sack containing $15 million in cash, stating that he watched as two of Ibori’s men lifted the heavy sack and handed it over to his own EFCC staff. “It was a bag that an individual could not carry alone,” he said.

The EFCC men, he told the court, drove the bag to the central bank where the money was counted and boxed into smaller containers. The court was shown photographs of the boxes of cash.

Ribadu told the court that Ibori pointedly told him that he offered the cash in return for EFCC’s clearance. “I have given you money Nuhu, just give me my clearance,” Ribadu quoted Ibori as telling him after those events.

Instead, the EFCC continued to investigate Ibori’s affairs and had him arrested on corruption charges on December 12, 2007.

Ribadu however admitted that the climate changed since Obasanjo stepped down and President Umaru Yar’Adua, Ibori’s close ally took over. The late Yar’Adua along with his then attorney general, Michael Aondoakaa, Ribadu claimed interfered in the EFCC investigation such that on December 27, 15 days after Ibori’s arrest, Ribadu was sacked as chairman of the EFCC.

In February, Ibori had pleaded guilty to several counts of money laundering and fraud, an admission which the prosecution had said established that the case against him was solid and proven.

Prosecutor Sasha Wass, had told the court then that Ibori “lived and behaved like a millionaire,” detailing how the former governor started off as a petty thief who dipped hands in the till of his employers and as the man who was once unable to afford his monthly mortgage payments but “went on to live the lifestyle of a property tycoon, living like royalty.”

Wass said that Ibori had always planned to defraud Delta State during his time as governor, and had made preparations for it in the years before taking offi ce. Ibori had acquired a new passport with a new date of birth in order to disguise two previous convictions for theft and fraud in the UK. She disclosed that he soon bought a house, the fi rst in a property portfolio that by the time he stepped down as governor was valued at nearly £7 million.

This portfolio consisted of three houses in the UK: two in London and one in Dorset near the expensive private school where his three children were enrolled. In addition, the former governor purchased real estate in South Africa and Houston, Texas.

The court was also told how by 2007, Ibori had spent £170,000 on motorcars, school fees of £143,000, and £920,000 on an American Express “centurion” card, the credit card for the incredibly wealthy. The court also heard how Ibori bought a £120,000 Mercedes Maybach, “the German equivalent of a Rolls Royce” for his South African mansion. The judge also heard that Ibori was in the process of buying a £20 million challenger jet while being investigated by the UK police.

In addition, the prosecution outlined how Ibori’s relatives and his mistress aided him in siphoning off money from the Delta State treasury into accounts in their names, and then into buying property in the UK, South Africa and the US. Wass detailed the former governor’s clever ploy of using different solicitors to buy several property, using a different one each time in order to disguise his involvement and throw off suspicions of money laundering.

Ibrori was said to have been introduced to Gohil, a lawyer who “specialised in money laundering,” according to Wass by a fellow governor, former Governor Victor Attah of Akwa Ibom State. It was Gohil who helped Ibori set up Swiss bank accounts and trusts in the tax havens of the Seychelles as well as the Channel islands in order to hide his thieving.

The UK prosecutor revealed details of huge deposits that the former governor held in a variety of bank accounts that were never disclosed on offi cial asset declarations in Nigeria as required by the Nigerian constitution. Among the deposits were €20 million in a trust fund called Zircon in the Channel island of Guernsey, and £1 million in another trust called Onyx. In addition, Ibori had six accounts with Barclays Bank in London with more than £1million in total. He also had an account in Colorado in the US as well as the use of Gohil’s client account.

According to the prosecutor, when the UK police searched Gohil’s offi ce, they found a secret compartment behind a fi replace that held two external hard drives and information that was “very incriminating.” Gohil, who was convicted last year and sentenced to 10 years in jail, had played a key role in what the police dubbed “the VMobile fraud.”

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