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Published On: Tue, Dec 10th, 2013

UK Court Sentences Ibori’s Banker to Four Years Imprisonment

Chief James Ibori

LAGOS DECEMBER 10TH 2013 (URHOBOTODAY)- A British court has sentenced Ellias Preko, a former Goldman Sachs investment banker who helped former Governor James Ibori of Delta State to launder millions of dollars, to four and a half years in jail.
Mr. Preko, 54, is originally from Ghana.
Our correspondent reported that Mr. Preko remained impassive as Judge Anthony Pitts announced his sentence. Earlier, the disgraced banker had thanked the judge as he was taken into custody following guilty verdicts returned by the jury on two counts of money laundering.
“His world has very much fallen apart,” defense barrister Richard Horwell told the court in a plea for leniency before sentence was passed.
Mr. Preko was arrested five years ago as the net closed in around former Delta State governor, James Ibori. Mr. Ibori himself was last year sentenced to 13 years imprisonment by the same judge after he plead guilty to charges of money laundering.
The jury heard evidence that between 2000 and 2003, Mr. Preko took $5 million stolen by Ibori, his wife and mistress, and made it appear to be clean money so that the loot could be lodged in trusts held in the British tax haven of Guernsey.
The cash came from inflated contracts awarded by Mr. Ibori’s administration to three companies held in the names of Ibori’s wife and mistress.
Email evidence seen by the jury showed that Mr. Preko instructed the Iboris on how to fill out forms for businesses so that they could pass the Guernsey bank’s due diligence investigations.
With the benefit of Mr. Preko’s expert help, the rogue companies, named Sagicom, Zircon, Zeta and Onyx, appeared to be legitimate. But investigations by the Metropolitan Police revealed that the address of the companies’ head office was in fact an off-license on Awolowo Road, Lagos, prosecutor Sasha Wass told the court.
The money laundering scheme was the “first of many” future transactions Mr. Ibori promised to execute in email correspondence shown to the jury.
Mr. Preko’s defense team had argued that their client had never been paid for his help, and said the banker was unaware that the money was the proceeds of crime. The other members of the fraud syndicate, Mr. Ibori, his family and mistress as well as Mr. Ibori’s UK solicitor, Bhadresh Gohil, bore much more responsibility for the criminal activity, Mr. Horwell argued before Judge Pitts and the jury.
“Mr Preko was toward the bottom of the hierarchy,” the defendant’s attorney argued. But that line of defense was mostly swept away and discountenanced by the judge.
“You were a professional man, not under the pressures of a family member,” said Judge Pitts to Mr. Preko, adding that the defendant “had the ability to walk away.”
Judge Pitts however acknowledged that Mr. Preko had a limited role in the theft in comparison to Ibori’s wife, Theresa Ibori, and his mistress, Udoamaka Okoronkwo. Both women were each sentenced to five years in 2009. They have finished serving their sentence and been released.
Confiscation hearings are due to be held next year, where any of Mr. Preko’s ill-gotten gains identified by investigators will be liable to seizure by the court.
The court granted the prosecution four months to complete fresh investigations in Nigeria regarding the location and nature of illicitly acquired assets.
Source: Saharareporters

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