A corrupt former Nigerian politician has been ordered to pay back over £101million of his ill-gotten gains more than a decade after his conviction – or face going to jail again for eight years if he doesn’t.
James Ibori, 64, defrauded some of the poorest people in the world out of up to £157million of public funds during his time as Nigerian Delta State governor, lying about government contracts and embezzling cash.
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The ex-Wickes cashier blew millions on luxury homes, a £12.6million private jet, fees at some of the UK’s most expensive boarding schools for his children, first-class travel and exclusive hotels. He even bought properties in Washington DC and Texas.
The crooked politician owned a £600,000 fleet of armoured Range Rovers, a £120,000 Bentley, and a £340,000 Mercedes Maybach that was shipped directly to his lavish £3.2million mansion in Johannesburg. He also had a £2.2million home in Hampstead – paid cash for in cash in 2001 – and a £311,000 townhouse in Dorset.
Ibori served four years in a UK prison before he voluntarily returned to Nigeria in December 2016 after being told he faced deportation. It’s believed he is still there.
Ibori had moved to the UK in the 1980s where he married and set up home with his wife, Theresa Ibori, in Nower Hill, Pinner, Middlesex. He worked as a cashier at a building supplies store Wickes in Ruislip, Middlesex, earning around £5,000 a year.
But after his time in Britain – which saw him being convicted of petty theft – Ibori moved back in his home county and became one of Nigeria’s most influential and wealthy politicians.
However, behind the scenes, he used a complex network of associates – including his wife, sister and his lover – to launder cash from his proceeds of crime.
He was eventually jailed for 13 years in 2012, after admitting to conspiracy to defraud, money laundering and conspiracy to make false instruments over a £23million fraud on Delta state and Akwa Ibom state between 2005 and 2007.
But at the time a sentencing judge branded this sum ‘ludicrously low’ claiming the amount the Ibori could have embezzled might have hit a staggering £200million.
And now, following one of the most complex confiscation proceeding investigations in British history, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) proved Ibori had benefited from his crimes to the tune of £101,514,315.21.
Adrian Foster, Chief Crown Prosecutor, CPS Proceeds of Crime Division, today said: ‘This was one of our largest international cases and illustrates how robustly the CPS tackles international illicit finance and corruption.’
Judge David Tomlinson told Southwark Crown Court: ‘I am satisfied and formally declare that Ibori has benefited in sum of £101,514,315.21 inclusive in change of value of money in uplift.
‘I make a confiscation order in that sum because he has not satisfied me, nor has he really tried to satisfy me, that the full amount is not available.
‘I don’t find it disproportionate to order confiscation in the full amount.
‘There will be eight years of imprisonment in default of payment.’
Dr Helen Taylor, Senior Legal Researcher at Spotlight on Corruption, said: ‘After more than a decade of delay, it’s hugely welcome to see this substantial confiscation order finalised in legal ink.
‘But the long and tortuous road to reach this point shows just how tough it is to recover the proceeds of corruption in the UK.
‘To ensure justice delayed doesn’t mean justice denied for the Nigerian people, it’s essential that the UK now makes every effort to ensure the speedy return of this stolen loot to benefit the victims of Ibori’s corruption in the Delta state.’
Ibori rigged lucrative state contracts with the help of his wife, mistress, sister, and an inner circle of corrupt officials and lifted money straight out of state funds.
Former solicitor, Bhadresh Gohil, aided the governor by laundering millions of pounds. He was today ordered to pay back £28,191,787.15.
Gohil was jailed for a total of 10 years in 2011 after admitting conspiracy to defraud, conspiracy to make false instruments and six counts of money laundering last year and was jailed for seven years.
A founder member of the Association of Asian Lawyers in Britain, Gohil had also used his expertise as a partner at a top law firm to cream off profits from a telecoms takeover deal in the West African nation.
The former Mayfair lawyer also faces confiscation proceedings to claw back wealth he obtained dishonestly.
Ibori’s mistress Udoamaka Onuigbo, 58, has already been ordered to pay £2,649,959.45. It was formally declared that she benefited over £10million from the fraud.
Onuigbo was found guilty in June 2010 of three counts of money laundering and not guilty of one count of money laundering. She was sentenced to five years in prison. She was Ibori’s mistress and mother of his youngest child.
In 1990, Ibori and his wife were arrested and charged with stealing goods from a hardware store. They were later convicted and fined £300. A year later Ibori was again convicted of handling a stolen credit card and fined £100.
After moving back to Nigeria Ibori worked for President Sani Abacha’s regime as a ‘policy consultant’ and entered the field of Nigerian politics, working his way up through the ranks of the ruling People’s Democratic Party.
Ibori was elected to become the governor of Delta State, in 1999.
In 2003, he was re-elected as governor for another four-year term, after failing to disclose his previous convictions and financial status.
During that time he systematically stole funds from the public purse, secreting them in bank accounts across the world.
His methods included the inflation of state contracts, kickbacks and the transfer of cash from the State accounts by unscrupulous employees in his inner circle.
Ibori was first arrested by the EFCC in Nigeria in December 2007. Earlier that year, a London court, at the request of the Met Proceeds of Corruption Unit, froze UK assets worth £35million allegedly belonging to him. His annual salary was less than US$25,000.
Two years later, a court in Asaba, Nigeria, Ibori’s hometown, dismissed 170 charges of corruption, saying there was no clear evidence to convict.