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Ibori’s Pyrrhic Victory in Asaba is Without Prejudice to the Case against Him and His Associates in London

December 20, 2009

The report of the infamous judgement of Justice Marcel Awokulehin (dismissing the 170-count indictment of James Ibori purportedly for lack of evidence) by the Associated Press on Thursday December 17, 2009 rightly condemned the complicity of the Nigerian government in high level corruption. According to the report, which was carried by many international news media, “Ibori represented an opportunity for Nigeria to hold to account government officials long criticized for lining their own pockets instead of helping the poor, especially in the restive Niger Delta. As an associate of Yar'Adua, he also stood as a test of the president's vow to crack down on corruption”.

“That widespread corruption led U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to lump Nigeria with Cuba this week as governments ‘able but unwilling to make the changes their citizens deserve’”, it concludes.
Therefore, come 2010, which will be the 50th anniversary of Nigeria’s Independence from Britain, long suffering Nigerians, failed by their own government, will be looking up to the old colonial master for justice in this matter when the trials of Ibori’s wife Theresa Ibori, his mistress Udoamaka Okoronkwo, his sister Christine Ibori-Ibie, his former personal assistant Adebimpe Pogoson and his London-based solicitor Bhadresh Gohil for conspiracy to commit money laundering and money laundering restart at the Southwark Crown Court. Ibori’s conviction in Asaba would not have harmed the Crown’s case against his associates in London, which perhaps explains why the first set of trials was adjourned twice to allow the dithering Justice Awokulehin to deliver his judgment, but such a conviction is not required to prove the case against him and his associates. 
In his ruling in 2008 on the preparatory hearing on the admissibility of the evidence provided to the prosecution by the EFCC during Ribadu’s tenure, Judge Rivlin QC summarised the money laundering charges as follows:

“All the money laundering offences ... arise in this way, and here I briefly summarise the Crown’s case. These ... defendants are all closely connected with a man named James Onanefe Ibori (‘Mr James’). Theresa is his wife; Christine is his sister and Adebimpe Pogoson was at the material time his personal assistant/secretary. Mr James has a chequered history. At one time, in the early 1990’s, when living in England and working as a cashier, he and his wife were in debt and also in trouble for minor offences of dishonesty; but by 1999 he had risen in the world, and in that year he took office as the Governor of Delta State of Nigeria. In that capacity he was required to make asset declarations, which are said to have been false. He was also paid a salary and expenses, which were expected to his only source of income.”

“Notwithstanding these limitations of his office, which were anti-corruption measures, according to the Crown it was not long before Mr James came into personal possession of very substantial wealth, running into millions of pounds sterling. The main thrust of the case against these defendants is that each of them then assisted him in a major money laundering operation, whereby these monies or at least part of them were paid into various bank accounts in the UK and/or used towards the purchase in this country of a number of properties, and/or to fund the luxurious life-styles of one or more of the defendants.”

“As it happens, very substantial sums of money have already been frozen pursuant to Restraint Proceedings initiated by the Crown in 2007. The prosecution say that virtually all of this money had been dishonestly plundered from the Delta State or in other ways fraudulently obtained by Mr James Ibori.”

The principal money laundering offences in the United Kingdom since 24 February 2003 are found in sections 327, 328 and 329 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. That legislation defines money laundering as an act which constitutes an offence under any of the three sections or a conspiracy or attempt to commit such an offence. These offences are widely defined.

For example, the details of the charges of conspiracy to commit money laundering against Ibori’s associates are that at various times between March 1 2005 and September 24 2008 they conspired together with each other and/or with James Ibori to commit an offence of money laundering contrary to section 327 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 by concealing, disguising, converting, transferring or removing criminal property from England and Wales, knowing or suspecting that the said criminal property constituted another's benefit from criminal property, or represented such a benefit, in whole or in part and whether directly or indirectly, contrary to section 1(1) of the Criminal Law Act 1977.

Similarly, the specifics of the money laundering charges against them are that at various times between March 1 2005 and September 24 2008 they entered into or became concerned in an arrangement which they knew or suspected facilitated the acquisition, retention, use or control of criminal property by or on behalf of another, knowing or suspecting that the said criminal property constituted another's benefit from criminal conduct, or represented such a benefit, in whole or in part, and whether directly or indirectly, contrary to section 328 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.

The key ingredients of these offences are “criminal conduct” and “criminal property”. The Crown has to prove that the laundered proceeds are "criminal property”, i.e. property that constitutes a person's benefit from criminal conduct. “Criminal conduct” is itself defined in section 340 as conduct which constitutes an offence in any part of the United Kingdom, or would constitute an offence in any part of the United Kingdom if it occurred there. Therefore, offences that are committed abroad are relevant predicate crimes if laundering acts under sections 327, 328 and 329 are committed within the United Kingdom where the predicate offence committed abroad (from which proceeds were generated) would also constitute an offence in any part of the United Kingdom if it occurred there.

Circumstantial evidence is usually used to prove that proceeds are the benefit of "criminal conduct". Where money laundering offences are prosecuted on the same indictment as the underlying crimes, the underlying criminal conduct will be proved as part of the prosecution to the requisite standard. However, where, as in the case of Ibori’s associates, the money laundering proceedings are "stand alone", it is necessary to prove the underlying criminal conduct but there is no requirement for a conviction in relation to the "criminal conduct" (i.e. the underlying or predicate offences giving rise to the criminal property) either in the United Kingdom or elsewhere.

Even then the prosecution is not required to prove that the property in question is the benefit of a particular or a specific act of criminal conduct, as such an interpretation would restrict unduly the operation of the widely-drawn offences under Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. Rather, the prosecution is only required to produce sufficient circumstantial or other evidence from which inferences can be drawn to the required criminal standard that the property in question has a criminal origin. In the case of Ibori’s female associates, who were said to be reliant on state benefits in England before he became governor of Delta State, the unlikelihood of the property they now own being of legitimate origin will be relevant evidence. Therefore Crown will expect to be required merely to prove that the women have no legitimate explanation for possessing the multi-million pounds worth of cash and other assets traced to them to enable a jury to draw an inference that the properties constitute proceeds of crime.

Moreover, it will be recalled that the Iboris’ lawyers lost a protracted legal battle that went all the way to the Court of Appeal in London to exclude all the direct evidence of Ibori’s alleged corruption provided to the prosecution by the EFCC during Ribadu’s tenure from the ongoing prosecution. Furthermore, Ribadu has since provided a written statement to the prosecution and is expected to provide further oral evidence at the trials. The current leadership of the EFCC has also pledged to provide witnesses (said to have been hand-picked by Ibori) for the trials.

Therefore the decisive question of whether Ibori engaged in criminal conduct – i.e. any conduct that constitutes an offence in any part of the United Kingdom or would constitute an offence in any part of the United Kingdom if it occurred there – during his tenure as governor of Delta State from 1999 to 2007 will be decided by the Southwark Crown Court according to English law on the basis of all available evidence. Such evidence may include the judgment of Justice Awokulehin, which amounts to no more than one piece of evidence in entire body of evidence available to the court.  

It is no surprise that Ibori’s puppet and Nigeria’s Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Michael Aondoakaa, has blocked his extradition to London to participate in the criminal proceedings that are primarily against him. What is perhaps surprising is that a man that claims to be the Odidigborigbo (which apparently means ‘King of the Jungle’) of Africa has continued to cower behind Aondoakaa at home while the women closest to him (including his wife and the mother of his children, who he has not seen since her arrest at Heathrow Airport in November 2007) fight his battle in a foreign land. Since Justice Awokulehin has apparently given him a clean bill of health, is the Odidigborigbo of Africa man enough to go to London to clear his name and rescue his hapless women?

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