The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is now in a position to widen its investigation of former Governor James Onanefe Ibori of Delta State. Ibori, whose assets in Britain, Europe and Canada have been ordered frozen by a British court, is likely to suffer legal seizure of his considerable assets in the U.S.
The EFCC today secured a major legal victory when a Federal High Court sitting in Benin, Edo State, quashed a case brought against the EFCC by the Delta
State government, by declining jurisdiction in the case.
At a ruling today, Justice Gloria Okeke, who had earlier granted a controversial order barring the EFCC from arresting James Ibori and other former Delta State officials involved in large-scale corruption and money laundering, decided to invalidate her order.
Justice Okeke’s about-face came after lawyers from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the office of the Attorney General of the Federation
buffeted the court with arguments which suggested that the judge was shielding Ibori from being investigated and prosecuted on corruption and money laundering
The effect of today’s ruling is that the EFCC is now free to arrest Ibori and other suspects for trial. The anti-corruption had listed Ibori’s offences in a
counter-affidavit it filed last week in response to the court order.
Our source revealed that U.S. authorities are also prepared to commence money laundering investigations against Ibori once the ex-governor is arrested and put
to trial in Nigeria.
Ibori owns several multi-billion dollar assets in the U.S., including a sprawling real estate in the Miami, Florida area.
Saharareporters can report authoritatively that U.S. law enforcement authorities have pledged to take a hard look into Ibori’s assets—provided the EFCC shows
some seriousness in pursuing a case against the former governor.
A source at the office of the U.S. National Security Adviser told our reporters that EFCC Chairman Nuhu Ribadu had useful meetings with the NSA two weeks ago
to discuss Ibori’s money laundering operations in the U.S. According to the source, the NSA told Ribadu to go back to Nigeria and ensure that Ibori was arrested
and put to trial.
The NSA was quoted as telling Ribadu that as soon as Ibori was arrested and arraigned, the U.S. would freeze his U.S. assets as well.
According to our source, the NSA alluded to the case of Emmanuel Nnamdi ("Andy") Uba, scolding the EFCC chief for failing to provide information that Uba
broke Nigerian law when he exported $170,000 to the U.S. on Obasanjo's presidential jet. The Americans complained that they were forced to give Uba a soft
settlement deal because the EFCC failed to arrest Uba for breaking Nigerian laws in sneaking the cash out of Nigeria. Uba had also failed to declare the cash to
Nigerian officials, contrary to Central Bank regulations.
“The American officials made it clear that as soon as the EFCC comes down on Ibori, they’ll also move against his American assets,” said our reliable source. “But if you guys look the other way, as you did in the case of Uba, we’re not going to do your job for you.”
Human rights attorney, Bamidele Aturu, told Saharareporters that Justice Okeke’s ruling vindicates his position that no court of law can prevent agencies of government from investigating and arresting crooks. “It is against public policy,” said Aturu. “I am glad the judge saw through this. It’s a demonstration of the rule of law. The EFCC did what is right.”
The battle now shifts to the UK where a British High Court is expected to deliver another ruling on the restraining order brought against Ibori’s worldwide
assets. The High Court will consider new motions by the Metropolitan Police to extend an order freezing Ibori's worldwide assets worth $35 million.
Just as the London Police is revving up its case against Ibori, the U.S. Justice Department is also gearing to get involved in investigating the former governor. A source at the U.S. Justice department (USDOJ) told Saharareporters that the the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) field office in Miami as well as the FBI are looking into Ibori’s purchase of Willbros Nigeria Limited.
Last week, Jason Steph, the former Managing Director of Willbros Nigeria Limited, pleaded guilty in Houston to U.S. federal charges of bribing Nigerian officials.
Mr. Steph has also decided to cooperate with U.S. law enforcement agents who are looking into the entire Nigerian operations of Willbros. For Ibori as well as
other Nigerian officials involved in the Willbros scandal, that spells bad news.