SaharaReporters, New York
SaharaReporters can report that James Ibori's indicted lawyer, Bhadresh Gohil obtained bail at City of Westminster Magistrates Court with strict conditions. He has been directed by the court to maintain residence at his current home address, surrender his passport, provide two £250,000 sureties, and observe a daily curfew from 10pm to 6am. Mr. Gohil has already surrendered his passport to the Metropolitan Police in London.
Mr. Gohil is very involved in the worldwide money laundering affairs of James Ibori, former Governor of Delta State, and his associates. Yesterday he was slammed with four count charges of money laundering. He is expected back at the Southwark Crown Court on 22nd October 2008.
Bhadresh Babulal Gohil, who was enrolled as a Solicitor on 16 March 1992, is the junior partner in the two-partner law firm, Arlingtons Sharmas Solicitors of 6 Arlington Street, St James, London. According to the firm’s website: “Established in September 1992, Arlingtons Sharmas Solicitors is a firm focusing on providing personal service to its commercial and private client base in the United Kingdom and internationally including India, Africa and the Middle East.”
Mr Gohil’s landmark prosecution is very significant in the global fight against money laundering. For years, corrupt Nigerian public officials and members of their families and associates (otherwise known as Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs) in money laundering parlance) have long employed the services of British lawyers and accountants to make London their money-laundering destination of choice. But Gohil is the first of such professionals to be prosecuted in the UK. For a period of eight years starting (May 1999 to May 2007), the 48-year old Ibori was governor of Delta State. During this period—and in particular between 2005 and 2006—Ibori illegally transferred close to £20 million pounds out of Delta State to the United Kingdom. The transfers were laundered through cronies, relatives and shell companies.
Documents made exclusively available to Saharareporters show that Ibori irst engaged Gohil’s services in the registration of Haleway Properties Limited, one the former governor’s front companies used in buying high-priced real estate in London registered in Gibraltar.
But Mr. Gohil's most significant engagement with Ibori was over Telaton Quays Limited, another company that was registered in the British Virgin Islands and used to purchase A Challenger jet from Bombardier Incorporated in Canada. Mr. Gohil’s law firm incorporated Telaton Quays, which also owns 42 Great Ground Street, Shaftsbury in Dorset (UK).
Mr. Gohil also incorporated another company, Erin Aviation Limited, in Mauritius. Erin Aviation received an assignment from Telaton Quays Limited to help in the purchase of the Bombardier jet. The contract with Bombardier Incorporated was executed by way of a deed of assignment made on December 14 2006 between Telaton Quays Limited, Bombardier Inc. and Erin Aviation Limited.
Saharareporters learnt that funds for the purchase of the $20 million Bombardier Challenger 604 jet were paid to the jet’s manufacturer through different shell companies around the globe. First, the sum of $4.7 million was transferred to Bombardier from a Mauritius-based Parabola International Corp through Mr. Gohil's firm, Arlington Sharmas in London. The money from Parabola originated from an account opened and maintained by James Ibori in Switzerland in the name of a company known as “Stanhope.” Further funds were transferred to Sharmas solicitors in London from a Lagos-based aviation company, Wings Aviation Limited, which owns the Beechcraft airliner that crashed into a thick forest in Cross Rivers state in March 2008.
Gohil was the central figure in the Bombardier Challenger jet transactions. He incorporated Telaton Quays and was the authorized signatory in the deal to purchase the Challenger jet. According to the documents available to SaharaReporters, he is also known to have coordinated the purchase of the Challenger jet with Mr. Nogie Meggison, the director of Wings Aviation of Nigeria.
Mr. Meggison, an air pilot, identified as a beneficial owner of Wings Aviation Limited, also provided $3 million through Mr. Gohil to Bombardier. In a due diligence letter to Bombadier Inc., Mr. Gohil described Mr. Meggision as a “well-known and respected” operator in the aviation industry. But Metropolitan Police investigators at the Proceeds of Corruption Unit (POCU) discovered that Wings Aviation is actually owned by Stanhope and Parabola through another unnamed parent company directly controlled by Mr. Ibori.
The documents also reveal that the Metropolitan Police in London commenced money-laundering investigations against Ibori in 2005 with the assistance of the Nuhu Ribadu-led Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and other overseas countries that were not cited by name. SaharaReporters investigations reveal that a hitherto little-known US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency known as the "Foreign Corruption Investigations Unit" operating out of Florida might have assisted in the investigations.
The documents available to Saharareporters allege that Ibori actively diverted funds that have been allocated to education and citizen’s welfare in Delta State TO his personal use through United Kingdom banks. The documents specifically name the former governor as well as his sister, Mrs. Ibori-Ibie, his personal assistant, Adebimpe Pogoson, and his longtime associate and mistress Udo Amaka Okoronkwo (nee Onuigbo) as active collaborators in the money-laundering scheme. It is not known if Mr. Gohil's case will be joined with those of the three women current facing charges.
Part 7 of the British Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 contains stringent provisions that create a raft of money laundering offences. For example, under section 327, one of the provisions under which Mr Gohil was charged, any person who conceals, disguises, converts or transfers criminal property; or removes any such property from the United Kingdom, commits an offence. Under the provision, concealing or disguising criminal property includes concealing or disguising its nature, source, location, disposition, movement or ownership or any rights with respect to it. Under section 328, the second provision under which Mr Gohil is being prosecuted, a person commits an offence if he enters into or becomes concerned in an arrangement which he knows or suspects facilitates (by whatever means) the acquisition, retention, use or control of criminal property by or on behalf of another person.
By virtue of section 329, a person commits an offence if he acquires criminal property; uses criminal property or has possession of criminal property. A person found guilty of an offence under section 327, 328 or 329 is liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or to both, or on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years or to a fine or to both.
Professionals in the regulated sector like solicitors, accountants, bankers and estate agents are required by the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 to comply with even more stringent provisions. For example, under section 330, a person commits an offence if each of the following three conditions is satisfied. The first condition is that he knows or suspects, or has reasonable grounds for knowing or suspecting, that another person is engaged in money laundering. The second condition is that the information or other matter on which his knowledge or suspicion is based, or which gives reasonable grounds for such knowledge or suspicion, came to him in the course of a business in the regulated sector. The third condition is that he does not make the required disclosure to the relevant authorities as soon as is practicable after the information or other matter comes to him. A person guilty of an offence under section 330 is liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or to both, or on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or to a fine or to both.
Under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, criminal conduct is conduct, which constitutes an offence in any part of the United Kingdom, or any conduct committed outside the United Kingdom, which would constitute an offence in any part of the United Kingdom if it occurred there. Similarly, property is criminal property if it constitutes a person’s benefit from criminal conduct or it represents such a benefit (in whole or part and whether directly or indirectly), and the alleged offender knows or suspects that it constitutes or represents such a benefit. It is immaterial who carried out the conduct; that benefited from it; whether the conduct occurred before or after the passing of the 2002 Act. A person benefits from conduct if he obtains property as a result of or in connection with the conduct. Property is all property wherever situated and includes money and all forms of property. Also, under the Act, a money laundering offence is not restricted to an act that constitutes an offence under section 327, 328 or 329 but also any attempt, conspiracy or incitement to commit an offence under section 327, 328 or 329 including aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring the commission of an offence under section 327, 328 or 329 or any act that would constitute any such offence if done in the United Kingdom.
In view of these strict and wide ranging stringent provisions, the British authorities have frequently come under heavy criticism for the failure to prosecute any British lawyers and accountants who engage in money laundering. Earlier this year SaharaReporters published the secret 2001 report of the United Kingdom financial services regulator, the Financial Services Authority (FSA), titled “The Handling of Accounts Linked to General Abacha by Banks in the UK: Report by the FSA”, which details how more than US$1.3 billion of the estimated $5 billion stolen by the late General Abacha was laundered through 42 United Kingdom bank accounts held by Abacha’s family members and their close associates between 1996 and 2000. Despite serious breaches of money laundering laws by these banks and their staff, no person was charged with any offence in the United Kingdom.
In the legal profession the name Jeffrey Tesler, easily comes to mind. Mr Tesler was the UK lawyer at the centre of the $180 million bribe scandal involving Halliburton and the NLNG contracts. In court criminal proceedings in France it was revealed how Halliburton paid $132m to Jeffrey Tesler, who then bribed Dan Etete, the former Petroleum Minister and Alhaji M.D. Yusufu, Chairman of LNG, and other Nigerian public officials and politicians by transferring millions of dollars to their foreign bank accounts. THIS WAS DONE in order to ensure that a consortium including Halliburton won the $12bn contract to build a gas terminal at Bonny Island in Nigeria during the late Abacha’s regime.
In the course of his interrogation in France, Mr Tessler, who disclosed that HE haD been to Nigeria “just once, in 1983 or 1985” said: “I have worked with Nigeria permanently since 1977, in fact on a daily basis. At the time by telex, by telephone and Nigerians would come to see me in London on a regular basis. I’ve given advice to Nigerians on all levels. They come to London regularly; it’s a former colony. Hardly a day passes without my seeing one. London’s their second home.” Surprisingly, Mr Tesler, who was admitted as a Solicitor on 15 November 1973 and who plies his trade at the firm Kaye Tesler & Co of 86 West Green Road, Tottenham, North London has never been charged with any offence by the British authorities.
The trial of Gohil adds a new chapter to Ibori's travails as a fugitive from British law and sends a clear message to the Nigerian authorities that the lack of cooperation on their part will not in anyway stop the UK Metropolitan police from prosecuting Ibori and his associates to the fullest.