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  • I’m guilty of stealing, Ibori tells UK court

  • Former Delta State Governor James Ibori yesterday pleaded guilty in a British court to money laundering and conspiracy to defraud. He admitted nearly £50 million fraud, said to be part of total embezzlement which could exceed £250m (about $400m). The British police accuse him of stealing the money over eight years and the prosecutor called him a “thief in government house”.

    Ibori, once seen as one of Nigeria’s wealthiest and most influential politicians, was arrested in 2010 in Dubai and then extradited to London. As his trial at London’s Southwark Crown Court was about to begin, Ibori changed his plea to guilty and admitted stealing money from Delta State and laundering it in London through a number of offshore companies. Prosecuting counsel Sasha Wass said Ibori, 53, “tricked” his way into becoming Delta State governor by giving a false date of birth and claiming he had no criminal record. “He was never the legitimate governor and there was effectively a thief in government house. As the pretender of that public office, he was able to plunder Delta State’s wealth and hand out patronage,” the prosecutor said.

    Ibori allegedly used a false date of birth when he ran for governor of Delta State to conceal previous convictions as a criminal record would have excluded him from taking part in the election. According to prosecutors, he is 49, but according to the date of birth he used in Nigeria, he would be 53. Ibori is due to be sentenced on April 16. Ibori’s wife, Theresa, his sister, Christine, his mistress, Udoamaaka Okoronkwo, and his London solicitor, Bhadresh Gohil, have all been convicted of money-laundering. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had asked the UK’s Metropolitan Police to look into the ex-governor’s financial affairs.

    “The vast sums of money involved were used to fund Mr Ibori’s lavish lifestyle,” Detective Inspector Paul Whatmore, the officer in charge of the investigation, said. “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.” He said the money Ibori stole should have been used to pay for sanitation, power supplies and healthcare for the people. In 2007, a UK court froze assets allegedly belonging to Ibori, worth $35m. His annual salary as governor was less than $25,000.

    He had already left the UK when his assets were seized but he was arrested in Nigeria later that year. The charges were later dropped but he was then re-arrested in Dubai on a British warrant. Ibori whose address in England was given as Primrose Hill in North London, was working as a cashier in a branch of a DIY store in Ruislip, Middlesex, when he moved to Nigeria and worked his way up through the political ranks to become governor in 1999.

    As governor, he was racking up credit card bills of $200,000 per month on a luxury lifestyle, including running a fleet of armoured Range Rovers. He was trying to buy a plane for £20 million at the time he was arrested.