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Published On: Tue, Oct 8th, 2013

Ibori N22bn Loot: UK Court to Restart Asset-Confiscation Case

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LAGOS OCTOBER 8TH (URHOBOTODAY)-Hearing in the case of confiscation of 90 million pounds (N22.5 billion) worth of asset belonging to ex-governor James Ibori ended inconclusively on Monday in a British court.
The case will now start afresh next year.
James Ibori, governor of the oil-producing state of Delta in southern Nigeria from 1999 to 2007, is serving a 13-year jail sentence in a British jail.
This was after he pleaded guilty in February 2012 to 10 counts of fraud and money-laundering.

Once an influential power-broker at the heart of Nigeria’s ruling PDP, he is by far the most senior politician to be held accountable for corruption; although he is yet to be convicted for corruption in Nigeria, where a high court judge had once freed him of corruption charges.
The confiscation proceedings against him will determine whether he emerges from jail impoverished or still in possession of a large enough fortune to regain a position of influence in Nigeria.
Mr. Ibori will become eligible for early release in March 2016.
In a hearing which began at London’s Southwark Crown Court on September 16, prosecutors were seeking a court order to confiscate a long list of asset.
They were relying on Mr. Ibori’s guilty pleas as proof that his asset worth close to 90 million pounds were the proceeds of corruption during his time in office.
The defence argued that the guilty pleas did not prove that the asset were benefits of Ibori’s crimes.
After three weeks in court, Judge Anthony Pitts said in order to make an informed ruling he needed a better grip on the evidence underlying the case.
He said the hearing should start again from scratch next year, at a date to be determined later.
At the new hearing, which could last months, the prosecution will present evidence it had prepared for Ibori’s trial, which was scheduled to start in February 2012.
The trial then never took place because Mr. Ibori entered his guilty pleas on the first morning.
One of the most contentious issues to emerge during the confiscation hearing was an allegation by the prosecution that Ibori may have hidden assets in Oando, Nigeria’s biggest home-grown energy firm.
This had caused Oando’s share price to fall by 20 per cent in two days.
Oando disputed the allegation in statements and via Andrew Baillie, a lawyer representing its interests in court.
Mr. Baillie told the judge on Monday that there was “no evidence of any connection between Ibori and Oando Plc’’.
He asked him to make a formal finding to that effect when the case finally concludes, even though Mr. Pitts gave no indication of whether he would make any such finding.
The prosecution has however maintained the allegation.
Mr. Ibori was governor of oil-rich Delta State in Southern Nigeria from 1999 to 2007. He played a major role in the emergence of Umaru Yar’Adua as Nigeria’s president in 2007. He remained a leader of Nigeria’s ruling party and a confidant of Mr. Yar’Adua until the latter’s demise in 2010.
Efforts to make him face trial in Nigeria failed largely because of what civil society groups in Nigeria referred to as a corrupt judicial process, and a weakening of Nigeria’s major anti-corruption agency, EFCC, by the Yar’Adua administration.
Mr. Ibori is well known to have allegedly offered a bribe of $15 million cash to a former anti-graft chief, Nuhu Ribadu, money which is still in the custody of Nigeria’s Central Bank as evidence against the former governor.
(Reuters/NAN)

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