James Onanefe Ibori arrived at the Southwark Crown Court 1 before Judge Geoffrey Rivlin QC today to face series of charges over the theft of $290 million from Delta State, over which he was governor for eight years.
Ibori appearance this morning was for a preliminary hearing to determine if Mr. Ibori should face trial with Elias Preko. Mr. Preko, a Ghanaian and former Goldman Sachs banker, was Ibori's London financial adviser, and he was brought to court as well. He had been named in a series of deals involving Ibori, Henry Imashekka and Orji Kalu, the former governor of Abia State, in offshore accounts in Guernsey. Specifically, Mr. Preko was involved in setting up offshore accounts in Guernsey where Ibori deposited £ 3 million and he was also fingered in the purchase of a $20 million purchase of a private jet for Ibori. Ibori's case Number is T20117192.
Curiously, today, about 50 Ibori supporters of took over the premises of the Southwark Crown Court, perhaps in a pre-determined strategy to ensure that the court is not dominated by eager Nigerians who see Ibori as a symbol of the corruption in their homeland. SaharaReporters learnt that most of the "supporters" were sponsored the Delta state government.
The supporters occupied the court for a few hours before the commencement of the preliminary hearing. At about 11.51 a.m., however, court officials called in security men to evacuate them as another case unrelated to Ibori was about to commence. The security officials had a brief argument with some of the supporters who wanted to make sure they secured seats as a result of the number of people in court. Court officials stood their ground and space was made at the court gallery to allow the preceding case to commence.
The leader of the supporters group, Jaro Egbo, later told SaharaReporters that they came to plead with the UK government to tamper justice with mercy. He drew a parallel with the Libya Lockerbie bomber, who was freed on health grounds.
12:12p.m.: The preceding case ends, Ibori’s supporters rush in to take over the seats at the gallery.
12:22 PM: Judge Rivlin comes in.
12:33: Court Clerk announces the preliminary hearing of James Ibori and Elias Preko, who is said to be on bail. Prosecuting counsel announces that Mr. Preko is expected to be in court. Mr. Preko, in a dark suit, light blue shirt and a grey tie, is soon seated in the dock, a glass cubicle, guarded by a male and female guard.
At 12:35 James Ibori is brought into court. He is asked by the judge, “Are you James Ibori?” to which Ibori answers, “Yes my lord.”
Ibori is wearing a blue suit on a light blue shirt. He does not glance at the gallery. He is focusing on the prosecutor and the lawyers in front of him. Ibori listens carefully as lead crown prosecutor, Sasha Walsh, QC, speaks extensively on the case.
The Crown prosecutor insists that Ibori is to be jointly tried with Mr Preko, and announces that Ibori is in court as a result of extradition from Dubai. She says that Ibori has a series of cases against him that are quite serious and complex, but that as a result of adjudication, his case his very straight forward now. Judge Devlin agrees with that prosecutor that with progress made so far in adjudication, his cases should be more straightforward now.
Crown submits that Oba Nsuigbe, QC, and his other counsel should be familiar with the earlier cases and so Crown would not expect them to make claims that would delay trial. She says that papers where served in the current case electronically and all parties are aware of the details.
Crown prosecutor says she believes that the accused should have joint trials as they have a joint indictment so it could be manageable, and hopefully, the case will not be as long as the first trial by Judge Christopher Hardy which had netted Ibori’s sister, mistress and later his wife and his London lawyer. The Crown prosecutor submits she is looking at rounding up, latest December 2011.
Crown claims Ibori is facing a lot of money laundry allegations, Section 74 application pushed by the Crown so that early convictions should be allowed to be used in the case and so jury would be aware.
The judge ordered that prosecutors scale down the number of counts so that the case would be manageable and not confusing for the jury.
Ibori's lead counsel is Nicholas Purnell QC of Cloth Fair Chambers in London. He argues that all the submissions made by prosecutor are premature and unfair. Nsuigbe agrees with the lead defence.
Judge Rivlin then agrees with the defence that the decision for and against joint indictment should not be taken today.
The judge says so much will depend on how successful the section application becomes. He wants the case to commence in November and does not want the case to drag longer, saying that the case commencing after Christmas will be difficult.
Crown says they are very anxious for commencement of the trial. The defence insist that without having seen any papers at all they would find it difficult to commence.
The judge says the case should not take more than 10 weeks if it is a joint trial, but insists the trial won't be easy, regardless.
The judge says he is uneasy that the defence is claiming not to have details of the case, saying he is sure defence lawyer are as knowledgeable as he is about the case.
The judge, prosecutor and Defence counsel agree to an adjournment for ruling regarding a joint trial for 10:00 am on July 22, 2011.
At 1:03p.m., the judge decides to rise to consult on date. The court rises and Ibori looks around the gallery and waves to his supporters. They all wave back. He appears to enjoy the attention but could not muster much of a smile.
1:11p.m.: Judge comes back and says 22nd July is doable.
He says he can excuse Ibori's presence at the next adjourned date. The prosecutor announces all papers now reserved during the break. Oba Nsugbe applies that Preko comes in from Ghana and should be given the privilege to retrieve the £250,000 earlier deposited for Preko bail bond. The judge insists Preko should attend the next trial and that the money should remain with the court.
At 1:16p.m, Ibori is led out of the cubicle back to prison. He waves to gallery as his crest fallen supporters file out of the court room.