Judge Christopher Hardy sitting at a packed Southwark Crown Court today told Bhadresh Gohil a partner at Arlington Sharma Solicitors and James Ibori’s lawyer; “you have brought shame on your family, your profession and your country” as he handed down a sentence of over 7 years to him. (Sentence Count 1; Conspiracy to defraud -7 yrs , Count 2: Conspiracy to make false instruments - 3 ; 5 years and count 4-8 involving Money laundering and Proceeds of Crime- 3 years)
Gohil who was already in custody at Wandsworth Prison following the conclusion of another trial involving Ibori’s wife, sister and mistress was told by the judge, “ You were a solicitor of the supreme Court and holding out as a man of integrity”. Adding “It’s said the real villains are in Nigeria, but this fraud required special expertise and you lent yourself to it”. Gohil was described by the judge as the “architect” and the predicate offender in a thoroughly dishonest scheme which had been devised simply to divert resources of Nigerian state funds into the pockets of others from the sale of ‘V Mobile’ shares, the third largest wireless network in operation in the whole of the African continent now known as “Airtel.” Gohil went to extra ordinary lengths to carry out the fraud with no regard for his professional duties. In fact the police found evidence implicating him in fraud in another case already heard concerning Mr. Faustin Kabwe of Zambia who is already serving a sentence.
Sasha Wass QC for Prosecution told the judge that are two elements to this crime; “the Fraud and the Money laundering”.
In 2005 whilst James Ibori was the Governor, the Delta State owned 18% of the shares in V Mobile and The Akwa Ibom state owned 10% with Obong Victor Attah in power. Both were on the board of V Mobile and privy to all the dealings. So in June 2005, when a sale of the company was considered there were already offers on the table from major international operators such as Vodaphone, Virgin, Celtel and Econet amongst others. By late 2005 the market had been fully tested and although there was no requirement for any additional advice and due to the greed of our leaders, both James Ibori and Victor Attah together decided to plunder the asset and divert funds to their own coffers.
Other Nigerian officials accused in the scam are currently at large. They include Mr. Ibori, former Governor Victor Obong Attah of Akwa Ibom, David Edevbie, a former Principal Secretary to Umaru Yar'Adua, Love Ojakovo, a former commissioner of finance to Ibori and Henry Imashekka, a business associate of Ibori.
Gohil was recruited and it was he who masterminded a simple scheme and set up a fake company as a consultancy called ADF (Africa Development Finance) which would charge exorbitant fees ( five to six times of that charged by top UK solicitors, for their alleged service and to arrange the sale. Gohil created a pretence that it was necessary for the Delta State and Akwa Ibom state to consult another company-ADF and charged $19 million and $18m respectively and sent to Access bank in Nigeria.
The basis of the fee would be a 5% flat commission and 25% -30% success fee for any price achieved over $6.5 per share. This even though the market was already established at between $6.45-$8.05 per share. The prosecutor Sasha Wass said “it is like betting after a race is concluded”. The fees were not legitimate or necessary but merely a mechanism to divert money to James Ibori and Victor Attah. It was always intended that no work would be undertaken but money diverted. Mr. Gohil from his luxury offices in St James in London, created a false paper trail by his own efforts and by instructing his junior trainees. A false agreement was typed up and Gohil forged the necessary signatures.
Once funds were received at the Access bank in Nigeria various company vehicles were used to launder the cash including Brookes Aviation, E F Samuels, Ascot Offshore Nigeria Ltd, Esconet and Cran Brasil Nominees Ltd. Both De Boer and McCann were FSA approved and were recruited by Gohil to play a part.
The Judge also told the co defendants ; Lambertus De Boer aged 65 and Danial MCann aged 68 that, “I am satisfied that you were both drawn in innocently in Mr Gohil’s schemes and if you had not been then it would have been very serious for you”. Although both co-defendants’ lawyers made a case for suspended sentences, the Judge said that “Court of Appeal says that white collar crime is still a crime” and handed each a 30 months custodial sentence.
Mr. Gohil faces further sentencing regarding an earlier trial known as “Ibori Trial 2” which concerns the trial of Ibori associates already sentenced to five-year jail terms , that sentencing is adjourned till April 8 2011.
1. Conspiracy to defraud-Common Law Between 01/09/2005 and 01/01/2007
1. Conspiracy to defraud: That Bhadresh babulah Gohil, Lambertus de Boer and daniel benedict Mc Cannn between the 1st day of September 2005 and the 1st day of january 2007 conspired together and with Jmaes onafefe Ibori, Victor Attah, david Edevbie, Love Ojakovo , and others to defraud state within the Federation of Nigeria, namely Delta State and Akwa Ibom State, of sums representing part of the sale of shares owned by the said states in Vee Networks (Nigeria) Limited (trading as V Mobile) to Celtel (Nigeria) BV, and held in the names of their respective authorized ministries or agencies the said sums being paid to a company named African Development Finance Limited or its predecessors under an Exclusive arranger Agreement to a total invoiced value in excess of $37,000,000 United States dollars Contrary to common law. H.O 53/4 Local None CJS COL011 2. Make a false instrument with intent it be acceoted to genuine-Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981 Between 01/09/2005 and 01/07/2007
2. Conspiracy to make false instruments: That Bhadresh Babulal Gohil, Lambertus de Boer and Daniel Benedict McCann between the 1st day of September 2005 and the 1st day of July 2006 conspired together and with James Onafefe Ibori, David Edevbie, Love Ojakovo and others to make false instruments, namely letters and other documents whuich purported to be made ondate or otherwse in circumstances in which they were not mad, in relation to alleged services provided by African Development Finance or its predecessors in relation to the sale of shares by Delta State in Vee Networks (Nigeria) Limited (trading as V Mobile), with the intention that they or another should use the said letters and documents to induce somebody to accept them as genuine and by reason of so accepting to do, or not to do, some act to his own prejudice or that of any other person. Contrary to section 1 (1A) of the Criminal Law Act 1977. H.O 61/21 Local None CJS FC81002 3. Proceeds of Crime-arrangement re criminal property -money launder Between 15/04/2006 and 09/09/2009
3. Money Laundering: That Bhadresh Babulal Gohil, Lambertus de Boer and Daniel Benedict MCCann with others between the 15th day of April 2006 and the 9th day of September entered into or became concerned in an arrangement which they knew or suspected facilitated (by whatever means) the acquisition, retention, use or control of criminal property by or on behalf of another person or persons, namely the use of the company African Development Finance Limited or its predecessors as a front to receive and launder on behalf of another person sums paid to it under the terms of an Exclusive Arranger Agreement, up to an invoiced total in excess of $37,000,000 United States dollars, in relation to the sale of shares owned by Delta State and Akwa Ibom State in Vee Networks (Nigeria) Limited to Celtel (Nigeria) BV on or after the 15th April 2006.
4. Proceeds of Crime -arrangement re criminal property-money launder Between 15/04/2006 and 09/09/2009 That Bhadresh Babulal Gohil, Lambertus de Boer and Daniel Benedict McCann between the 15th April 2006 and the 9th September 2009 together with others entered into or became concerned in an arrangement which they knew or suspected facilitated (by whatever means) the acquisition, retention, use or control of criminal property by or on behalf of another person, namely the sale of the assets of the company African Development Finance Limited or its predecessors to another company vehicle, on terms which would represent a gross undervaluation of those assets to a legitimate company. Contrary to section 328 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 H.O. 38/2 Local None CJS PC 02006 5. Proceeds of Crime-conceal/disguised/converted/transfered/removed criminal property
5. Money laundering:
That Bhadresh Babulal Gohil, Lambertus de Boer, and Daniel Benedict MCCaann on or about the 21st December 2006 together with James Onafefe Ibori, Victor Attah, henry Imasheka and others concealed, disguised, converted and transferred criminal property, namely the sum of $10 million (USD) being a purported loan from African Development Finance Limited to a company named Ascot Offshore (Nigeria) Limited, they knowing or suspecting that that sum constituted the benefit from criminal conduct of another person, or that it represented such benefit in whole or in part and whether directly or indirectly.
Contrary to section 327 of the proceeds of crime Act 2002 H.O. 38/1 Local None CJS PC02020