Given the current controversy surrounding former EFCC boss Nuhu Ribadu, I thought it worthwhile to dig into the archives and let readers review this article published a year ago by Tell Magazine on former Delta State Governor James Ibori who was accused of scandalous corruption, and was being prosecuted by Ribadu until Ribadu’s removal from the EFCC stopped Ibori’s prosecution. Today, Ibori is a free man, his prosecution has stalled and he is still enjoying his illegally gotten wealth and access to Nigeria’s political elite. This is the story of how Ibori stole from the Nigerian people.
Friday, November 23, 2007
TELL Magazine Details Allegations of Corruption
Against Ex-Governor James Ibori
After spirited efforts to escape justice, the law is catching up with James Ibori, former governor of Delta State accused of stealing billions of state funds and laundering most of it abroad
Ex-Governor James Ibori of Delta State
If all had worked according to plan, James Ibori, former governor of oil-rich Delta State, would have become one of the most powerful and influential men in Nigeria today. Having generously oiled the wheels of the presidential campaign machinery of Umaru Yar’Adua, Ibori saw himself as a kingmaker who should call some shots in the new government. The former governor, it was gathered, demanded to be made minister in the lucrative petroleum resources ministry. He is also believed, at one point, to have considered being minister of the strategic federal capital territory ministry. But apart from the need to be paid back for his substantial investment in the President’s campaign, Ibori’s desire to be a powerful member of the new administration was also for the simple but strategic reason of self-preservation.
The handsome and fabulously wealthy ex-governor knew that he had been under investigation for corruption by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. For more than two years, the anti-corruption agency had investigated Ibori for allegedly looting Delta State treasury. Becoming a powerful minister in the government would have, at least for some time, secured his freedom from prosecution. So Ibori thought.
However, immediately he learnt of moves by the former governor to become a minister, Nuhu Ribadu, EFCC chairman, put paid to the scheme by placing before President Yar’Adua evidence of Ibori’s monumental looting of his state’s treasury.
Today, Ibori is neither a minister nor is he anywhere near the corridors of power. Rather, he is virtually a fugitive from the law. Ibori and some members of his family and associates are currently being embraced by the long arms of the law not only in Nigeria but also in Britain and the United States, US.
At the time when the EFCC began the clampdown on former governors, Ibori found it convenient to flee to the US. Ordinarily, Britain, where he has investments, houses, luxury cars and fat bank accounts, would have been the natural place to go. But he would most likely have been arrested in that country as the London Metropolitan Police has a strong case of money laundering against him. However, even America, his initial place of succour, has become too hot for him to stay. The magazine has learned that he had to quickly take off from the US and return to Nigeria a few weeks ago after he got wind of the fact that authorities in Florida had also commenced investigations on him in a money laundering case.
As Ibori made his way back home, he was believed to have instructed Theresa, his wife, and former first lady of Delta State, to also return home from Britain where she was staying. However, Theresa was arrested October 1, 2007 as she was waiting to board a plane to Nigeria. Her arrest was in connection with the Metropolitan Police’s money laundering investigations against Ibori. Already, three persons related to and used by Ibori in laundering money have been arrested in London and are currently under restraining orders. These are Adebimpe Pogoson, the ex-governor’s personal assistant, Christine Ibori-Ibie, his sister, and Udoamaka Okoronkwo, a female associate believed to have had a son for him. Theresa, a British citizen, was arrested by men of the Proceeds of Corruption Unit of the Metropolitan Police but was granted bail. However, she is expected to report back to the police in London in January 2008 for further questioning.
The investigations into alleged corruption and money laundering against Ibori have been long drawn, involving security authorities in Nigeria, South Africa and Britain. And the magazine’s own investigations have revealed that the Metropolitan Police has virtually concluded its probe of the former governor. It not only has a watertight case against him, but is in a position to arrest and prosecute him.
A glimpse into the money laundering case against Ibori in London is provided in a witness’ statement supporting an application for a restraining order on Ibori’s investments and assets in Britain and other countries. Written by Paul Gardiner, a financial investigator employed by the Metropolitan Police to unravel the web of the ex-governor’s money laundering schemes, the statement, which was actually presented to the Southwark Crown Court in order to obtain a restraining order on Ibori’s assets, reveals not only persons and companies used by Ibori to launder monies amounting to over N35 billion, but also the circuitous route that the funds were made to pass through to disguise their sources.
Specifically, Ibori, who is being investigated for committing offences under the Proceeds of Crime Act under British law, allegedly criminally stole billions of naira when he was in government and laundered some of same in Britain “thereby committing offences under section 327 and 328 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002”.
Operating like an international crook versed in the art of money laundering, and using the likes of Pogoson, Okoronkwo, Ibori-Ibie and a host of other associates as well as offshore companies and fronts, the former governor allegedly stole funds through the award of often bogus or often inflated contracts, paid monies into the accounts of these people who then transferred the funds into designated accounts abroad. Following a circuitous route, a lot of the monies were then routed to accounts and companies owned or controlled by Ibori. To disguise the sources of the funds, Ibori, through a firm of attorneys in London, also created shell companies in Gibraltar, British Virgin Islands, Switzerland, Mauritius, Panama and other remote parts of the world, to which monies were paid so that they could be legitimised through purchase of properties and other assets. These companies include Haleway Properties Limited, registered in Gibraltar, Teleton Quays Limited (in British Virgin Islands), Erin Aviation Limited (Mauritius), Stanhope Investment Limited (Polynesia), Julex Foundation (Panama) and Parabola International Corp. (Mauritius).
Documents at the Southwark Crown Court, London, showed that Ibori devised a simple method to launder the money he allegedly stole from Delta State coffers. For example, during his eight-year rule, cash and drafts worth about £2 million were paid to Pogoson from Delta State accounts. Money was paid into her account in Asaba and Lagos, from where it was electronically transferred into the United Kingdom, UK, accounts of MER Engineering, a company owned by the former governor. Ibori was a director in the company before he became governor. However, since 1999, Pogoson has been the sole signatory to the company’s accounts. From MER’s UK account, nearly $1.5 million was then electronically transferred into the account of a front company for the ex-governor, Stanhope Investment, held at Private Bank AG Geneva and other accounts held by him in Switzerland. Police forensic investigators from London discovered that because of the law in Nigeria which barred him from having foreign accounts, Ibori opened the account in the name of Stanhope in Switzerland, and through it, he paid for the purchase of an armour-plated Mercedes MayBach in April 2005. He is known to have several such foreign accounts. Ibori coughed out €406,600 and had the vintage car shipped to his home in South Africa. It was also from this account that the ex-governor paid the initial deposit of $4.7 million for the purchase of a Bombardier Challenger jet, total cost of which is put at $20 million. He transferred the money in June 2005 to the account of Parabola International Corp held in Zurich. The money was then transferred into the accounts of Arlington Shamas, Solicitor, London, Ibori’s representatives, for onward transfer to the aircraft manufacturers.
Pogoson, who resides in London in a house owned by Ibori’s sister, was arrested in April 2006 for money laundering charges but was released. She was further interrogated February this year, accused of holding many accounts in Nigeria with which she helped her boss launder money.
In the same dubious manner, Ibori, in the guise of awarding contracts to some companies, used his sister and Okoronkwo to loot Delta State funds and launder same abroad. Court documents in London and Nigeria show that in February 2005, acting as a purchasing representative to Onovin Nigeria Limited, a Nigerian company owned by Vincent Uduaghan, younger brother to Emmanuel Uduaghan, current governor of Delta State, Ibori-Ibie, the ex-governor’s sister, received over N38 million ostensibly for the procurement of running tracks for stadia in the state from a German firm. A total of £300,000 meant for the purchase of the tracks was transferred into Ibori-Ibie’s account with Barclays Bank, London. However, an inspection of her Barclays account showed that only a total of £123,717.72 was paid to BSW, the German suppliers. The shortfall of £176,182.26 is believed to have been laundered for the former governor.
In the case of Okoronkwo, between May 26, 2005 and June 8, 2005, she received about N105.5 million of Delta State government funds. The monies were then transferred into her HSBC account in London in three tranches – £200,000 on June I, 2005, £150,000 on June 14, 2005 and £200,000 on June 20, 2005. An inspection of the account showed that some of the monies were transferred to Ibori and Terry Waya, a Nigerian businessman currently serving a jail term in Britain for money laundering, while there is also evidence that properties and other assets had been bought for Ibori from funds in Okoronkwo’s HSBC account. For example, on July 20, 2005, Okoronkwo issued a cheque of £311,000 to Arlington Sharmas Solicitors which was used to purchase a house at 42, Great Ground, Shaftsbury, Dorset. The property was registered in the name of Teleton Quays but is used by Ibori and his wife.
It was discovered that Ibori had instructed Bhadresh Gohil, a partner in Arlington Sharmas, who was central to the incorporation of front companies and legitimising laundered funds for the ex-governor, to register Teleton Quays and purchase the property in the company’s name. Okoronkwo is also known to have purchased another house in London at a cost of £388,077.62 for Ibori in the name of Boyd Properties. In all, over £2 million have passed through Okoronkwo’s HSBC account, most of it paid directly into a London Barclays account number 00115916 in the name of James Ibori.
For the role they played in laundering money for Ibori, the trio of Pogoson, Ibori-Ibie and Okoronkwo are currently subject to restraint proceedings in London and, if found guilty of money laundering charges, face jail sentences of many years.
Yet, the British investigations have revealed even more startling discoveries. Ibori, in late 2005, hatched a plot to legitimise some of his allegedly stolen and laundered money through the purchase of a Challenger jet from Bombardier. Since he knew that he could not directly send money to the aircraft manufacturers, as that would have immediately raised questions in many quarters, Ibori got Gohil to register companies to use for the transaction and to make payments for the jet. In December 2005, Gohil, on behalf of Ibori, brokered a purchase deal for the Challenger at the cost of $20 million between Teleton Quays and Bombardier. Gohil also incorporated another company, Erin Aviation, in Mauritius, which later took over as the buyer from Teleton Quays. In July 2005, four payments totalling £4,788,176.92 were made from Ibori’s account held in the name of Stanhope into a Schrader Bank, Zurich account in the name of Edward Shemutete for Parabola International Corp. Shemutete is a known international expert in money laundering and legitimising corruptly gotten funds. He is currently under investigation in Zambia, his home country, for allegedly helping former President Frederick Chiluba launder money abroad.
Investigators say that Shemutete was most likely fronting for Ibori as he was introduced to the bank by Gohil, the same man who acted for the ex-governor in many other businesses. On September 29, 2005, the money was transferred from the Parabola account into a Barclays Bank, London account, which turned out to be a client’s account held by Gohil’s law firm, Arlington Shamas. The firm later made the payment to Bombardier.
But there were more intriguing disclosures from the examination of the Teleton/Bombardier deal. By July 2006, a total of $9,856,685.22 had been paid for the jet. A breakdown of the payment shows that apart from the $4.788 million paid by Stanhope/Parabola, Bombardier also received $599,963.98 from Wings Aviation Limited; $899,805.96 from Erin Aviation; $249,007.72 from Pamaron Oil and Gas Limited; another $899,896.68 from Wings Aviation and a last transfer of $951,178.07 from Erin Aviation. The entry of Wings Aviation makes the jet purchase more intriguing. Wings Aviation is registered in Nigeria as a charter services provider.
Interestingly, investigators found out through a letter written by Gohil that Stanhope Investment and Parabola International Corp, both believed to be owned by Ibori, were principal shareholders in Aviation Development Corporation, the parent company of Wings Aviation. The investigators in London have inferred that Ibori, through his offshore companies, owns Wings Aviation and that he also provided the monies paid by the company for the Bombardier jet. The investigators equally believe that the agreement between Erin Aviation and Bombardier is to be terminated and the purchase price of $20 million returned. The investigators have moved to place a restraining order on the jet or monies returned by the manufacturers and are also asking for a restraining order on houses, cars and accounts believed to be held by Ibori or his proxies.
These include three houses in London and Dorset, four vintage cars (a Bentley Continental GT, Mercedes MayBach, a Chrysler and a Jaguar) as well as several accounts held in his name and those of his front companies such as Stanhope Investments and Teleton Quays.
The London money laundering investigations on Ibori tell only one side of the story of this young man’s mindless looting of the funds kept in his trust when he was governor of Delta State. The investigations actually derived from investigations in Nigeria on Ibori spanning over two years by the EFCC. Although the EFCC had kept its investigations close to its chest, it was forced to come out with its findings after the Delta State government took the commission to court to restrain it, among other things, from arresting or prosecuting Ibori. In an affidavit deposed by Yahaya Bello, the head of the team that investigated the Ibori case, the EFCC finally opened a can of worms on the ex-governor’s looting ways. Many of the EFCC findings better explain some of the missing links in the British authorities’ investigations. The EFCC investigations uncovered several questionable payments to companies, associates and aides of Ibori, running into billions of naira. For example, it was discovered that there were monthly lodgments of Delta State cheques of between five and seven million naira into the accounts of Onovin Nigeria Limited. Vincent Uduaghan, owner of the company, told investigators that the payments which totalled N350 million in five years were for the supply of fuel from Total Nigeria Limited in Benin, Edo State. But Total, which did have a fuel supply contract, denied having any dealings with Onovin Nigeria Limited.
Furthermore, it was discovered that lodgments of up to N400 million were made from state accounts into the accounts of Ede Ogoro, private secretary to Ibori, and Charles Isiayei, chief accountant to Delta State Government House. It was also revealed that these two men also made several cash lodgments running into billions of naira from “security votes” of the state into the accounts of companies controlled by or connected with Ibori. These include Koln Nigeria Limited, Silhouette Travels, Prime Chambers, MER Engineering Limited and Bainenox.
Another interesting discovery was that part of the money paid from Nigeria for the purchase of the Challenger jet was one million dollars by Pamaron Oil and Gas through Fidelity Bank.
The EFCC investigations also showed how Ibori bought into several companies in Nigeria, including recently privatised state ones using proxies to disguise the source of funds. For example, the National Fertiliser Company, NAFCON, was acquired in 2005 by O-Secul Nigeria Limited owned by Mike Orugbo for $152 million. Orugbo was able to raise only $2 million but, curiously, the company was able to raise the balance from Oceanic Bank with which it had no prior relationship. The bank later received a total of $46 million to acquire 39 per cent of NAFCON from Copex Management Service, the same company that paid money to Arlington Sharmas on behalf of Erin Aviation for the purchase of the Bombardier jet. This time, Copex paid the money on behalf of Nortore Mauritius. This company has been found to belong to a group of foreign investors two of who were brought into the deal by Arlington Sharmas, Ibori’s UK solicitor friend.
Oceanic Bank received a further N4.418 billion from Brisbane Limited, owned by Henry Imasekha, a known friend and associate of Ibori, for 13 per cent of the fertiliser company. Probes into the money paid by Brisbane only opened a new vista of Ibori’s thievery. It was discovered that, in 2001, Imasekha had secured a N2.2 billion loan from New Nigeria Bank to buy 10 per cent shares in Econet Nigeria Limited. There was no evidence that he had a relationship with the bank. Curiously, a few weeks later, the Delta State government bought off five per cent of Imasekha’s shares for N2.5 billion. This money was used by the businessman to pay off the bank loan. But he still had N300 million as well as five per cent of Econet shares. The money used in paying for Brisbane’s 13 per cent shares in NAFCON came from the proceeds of the sale of Imasekha’s remaining shares in Econet.
Imasekha is believed to be a front for Ibori. The EFCC also alleged that Ibori used several companies to divert N5 billion from Delta State coffers into the purchase of shares from Afribank. The commission claims that the entire money had been recovered and returned to the state government. Ibori is also alleged to have similarly invested in high net worth portfolios, including Wilbros Nigeria Limited, among others.
The accusations against Ibori are, indeed, grave. They constitute the most brazen and monumental case of looting by any former state chief executive. And there is not one of these allegations that the ex-governor is unaware of. There is proof obtained from some of his arrested associates that he has actually made efforts to suppress potentially incriminating evidence. Beyond this, Ibori has also played a game of survival by using his understanding of the nation’s political system to escape the law. Many believe he has an ally in Michael Aondoakaa, the attorney-general and minister of justice. Aondoakaa’s attitude towards the fight against corruption is, perhaps, better understood against the background of his having crossed the path of the commission in the past. As one of the counsel to the Benue State government in its action against the EFCC, the state government was asking the court to declare the commission an illegal body and that it had no right to investigate corruption cases against any official of the state. That case was recently decided in favour of the EFCC. Ibori’s first strategy was to buy time from prosecution by orchestrating the removal of Ribadu.
The magazine learnt that as soon as Yar A’dua came into office, Ibori and others recruited by him put pressure on the President to remove the EFCC boss. Their story was that Ribadu had thoroughly messed up and lost respect among Nigerians for allowing former President Olusegun Obasanjo to use him for political battles. If he is to be taken seriously about fighting corruption, then Ribadu would have to go, the President was told.
Having failed in this mission, Ibori and others who were afraid of Ribadu reportedly banded with Aondoakaa whom they knew had a grouse against the EFCC and its helmsman. To incapacitate the commission, a plot was hatched to remove its prosecutorial powers. Aondoakaa briefed Yar’Adua and soon presented a formal letter requesting to direct all prosecutions by the EFCC, Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, and the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB.
It was curious that the attorney-general was interested in only these three agencies connected with the prosecution of corrupt governors. However, the fallacy of his action was soon exposed when the President reportedly got superior legal advice from respected legal icons. Aondoakaa was forced by a thoroughly embarrassed President to reverse a decision he had announced to the whole world.
But Aondoakaa has not stopped acting on behalf of the same people that his office should be willing to prosecute if there is a case against them. The attorney-general forcefully took over the prosecution of the EFCC’s case against Orji Kalu, former governor of Abia State, based on a purported restraining order on the EFCC. However, Femi Falana, a Lagos-based lawyer, speaking to TELL in Lagos last week, said there was no such court order. Aondoakaa has also incurred the wrath of many Nigerians, particularly lawyers, for attempting to extricate Ibori from the restraint proceedings in a London court. The Southwark Crown Court in London had on August 2, 2007 frozen Ibori’s assets around the world estimated at about $35 million. But the freeze order was lifted on October 2, 2007 after Speechly Bircham, Ibori’s lawyer, presented to the court a letter written by Aondoakaa stating that the former governor was under no investigation in Nigeria. It was gathered that Bircham had written to the attorney-general to inquire if Ibori was under investigation. Without reference to the EFCC, ICPC, CCB or any other investigating agency in the country, Aondoakaa wrote back to the lawyer saying Ibori was not under any investigation. Significantly, as pointed out by a lawyer, Aondoakaa also said in his letter that as attorney-general, he had not requested for assistance in investigating Ibori as required under the mutual legal assistance programme between Nigeria and Britain. This, more than any other factor, let Ibori off the hook. But that victory was only temporary for the former governor as another court has reinstated the freeze order on his assets. Aondoakaa was said to have initially denied writing any letter to Ibori’s lawyer until the controversial letter was published on the Internet.
Perhaps, embarrassed by the seeming tardiness with which his government is prosecuting the war against corruption, President Yar’Adua directed the attorney-general to cooperate with the British investigating authority. Again, curiously, at a lawyers’ conference in Singapore, he announced the setting up of a special anti-corruption unit in his office.
In a related development, Aondoakaa, the magazine learnt, has also been putting pressure on the CCB to withdraw from his office about 18 case files submitted in relation to corruption cases against former governors. Many Nigerians have blamed President Yar’Adua for attempting to protect Ibori and other former governors from prosecution. But the President’s attitude to his former colleagues is said to be that he did not tell anybody to steal state funds to fund his campaign and that, in any case, he personally received no money from any of them; so there are no entanglements for him. Even sources in the anti-corruption agencies confirm that the President has never interfered with their investigations of the former state chief executives. What has happened, it is said, is that some people have exploited the President’s natural disposition to do things by the book – to follow due process – to sell the new mantra of “rule of law” to him in order to slow down the momentum of the anti-corruption campaign.
As it is now, none of these strategies has worked for Ibori who is now on the run from the law in Britain and America. Soon, with the setting aside of the restraining order on the EFCC to do its job, Ibori’s days as a free man may be numbered.