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  • MONEY LAUNDERING: Ibori pleads guilty to 10-count charge

  • LAGOS — Former governor of Delta State, Chief James Ibori, yesterday in a United Kingdom court, pleaded guilty to a 10-count charge of money-laundering and conspiracy to defraud. Chief Ibori who was arraigned before the court was accused by the British police of stealing $250m (£160m) over eight years. About $35m of his alleged UK assets were frozen in 2007.

    He was arrested in 2010 in Dubai and then extradited to London for trial but as his trial at London’s Southwark Crown Court was about to begin, Chief Ibori changed his plea to guilty and admitted stealing money from Delta state and laundering it in London through a number of offshore companies.

    Chief James Ibori

    Following Mr Ibori’s plea, the Metropolitan Police spokesman, Paul Whatmore told the court that: “We will now be actively seeking the confiscation of all of his stolen assets so they can be repatriated for the benefit of the people of Delta state”. Chief Ibori will be sentenced on April 16 this year. According to agency report, between 20 and 30 of Chief Ibori’s supporters were in court – some wearing T-shirts with the slogan “Free Ibori” while there was not enough room for them all in the public gallery.

    He was said to have sat in the dock behind a glass partition as prosecutor Sasha Wass described his tenure as a time of “wide-scale theft, fraud and corruption”. Wass further told the court that Ibori, 53, allegedly gave a false date of birth and claimed he had no criminal record before he was elected governor of Delta State governor. Among other crimes, Ibori was said to have admitted that he had conspired with others to pocket $37 million that should have gone into Delta State coffers from the sale of shares it owned in V Mobile telecoms company. Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID) said all funds recovered through the confiscation of Ibori’s assets would be given back to the people of Delta.

    “Ibori … lived a life of luxury after he embezzled what they (police) estimate to be $250 million of Nigerian public funds – equal to $38 from every person living in the state at the time of his crimes,” the department said after the court hearing. In court on Monday, Ibori reportedly waved and smiled at supporters who crowded into the room, but spoke only to identify himself and enter his pleas. Ibori had been expected to face a 12-week trial involving dozens of witnesses, but after he entered his guilty pleas the prosecution said that he had in effect accepted the substance of the case against him and a full trial was no longer necessary.

    The charges to which he pleaded not guilty had not been dropped and would remain on file, Wass said.

    Chief Ibori’s wife, Theresa; his sister, Christine; his mistress, Udoamaka Okoronkwo, and his London solicitor, Bhadresh Gohil, have all been convicted of money-laundering but media had not previously been allowed to report on those convictions in order to avoid prejudicing Ibori’s case. Their convictions could only be reported on Monday after reporting restrictions were lifted.