The Southwark Crown Court in London heard today that the jailed former governor of Delta State, James Ibori, hid some of his assets in Oando, the wealthy Nigerian oil firm, and that funds were moved from the company's accounts into Ibori's Swiss accounts.
The court room was turbo-charged as prosecutors began a confiscation hearing to determine the amount of assets owned by the former governor. It was packed with journalists and some of Ibori's relatives, including his sister, Christie Ibie-Ibori, but Ibori himself was not in attendance.
It would be recalled that Ibori was jailed for 13 years in 2012 in the United Kingdom following his conviction on fraud and money-laundering charges.
During the three-week confiscation hearing, prosecutors will detail Ibori’s assets before the court with the aim of having them seized.
In early procedural skirmishes, lawyers on both sides tussled over whether Ibori should or should not have been in court, with the judge expressing surprise the former governor did not want to attend his own confiscation case.
Ibori’s lawyers held that he is not obliged to be in court and that he does not even have to inform the court. Furthermore, Ibori merely wants to watch the court proceedings from his prison.
Prosecutor Sasha Wass said today she will present evidence of Ibori owning a significant part of Oando.
"The Crown will assert that Oando is a company where James Ibori has hidden assets," she told the court, suggesting that the prosecution has fully traced Ibori’s widespread dispersal of his fortune.
The prosecution also said it would also be relying on Ibori’s admittance of guilt, stressing that the former governor contested NONE of the Crown’s case or its assertion that he stole from his people.
The prosecution is insisting that this is a straight forward matter despite the tactics of the defence. Although a lot of money is involved, the prosecution underlines that Ibori did admit to the crime, and that the judge should not be distracted by the Ibori tactics as he admitted to defrauding Delta State on all counts.
The introduction of Oando is an important new element in this case and will raise tremendous new interest in Nigeria because of the high profile and deep pockets of the company, as well as the political interests involved. Although
the company is not a party to the case, it was represented in court by British lawyer Andrew Baillie.
During Ibori’s sentencing last year, Judge Anthony Pitts said the 50 million pounds that the ex-governor had admitted to stealing may be a "ludicrously low" fraction of his total haul. That total, it was suggested, could be more than 200 million pounds.
Prosecutor Wass has also indicated that Nuhu Ribadu, ex-boss of Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), would testify during the hearing. To underscore the depth of the corruption challenge in Nigeria, Ribadu has said in the past week that there are far more heinous criminals walking the streets of Nigeria.
The former EFCC boss has also said that Ibori tried to stop an EFCC investigation into his affairs in 2007 by offering him a bribe of $15 million in cash.