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IBORI GOES TO JAIL AS EFCC APPLAUDS | JUSTICE AWOKULEHIN ON ACQUITTED HIM

The Ibori fall from Aso Rock to jail

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Former governor of Delta State and chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), James Ibori, who was standing trial for allegations of money laundering and multiple frauds, has been jailed for 13 years by a United Kingdom (UK) court sitting in Southwark, London.

In his verdict on the matter yesterday, Judge Anthony Pitt of London Southwark Court said that Ibori’s sentencing was not the end of the case, saying that his property would still be confiscated through another legal process and that consequences might arise if there was problem with that.

The judge also said he “recognises that there is another side to the man James Ibori but he is not the proper person to judge his achievements and failings as a governor, saying that it is up to the people of Delta State.”

“If he had fought the case, he would be looking at 24 years but will get a discount for pleading guilty,” Judge Pitts also said. He then sentenced the former governor to 13 years in prison.

Shortly after the procedure started, Ibori’s lawyer Nicholas Purnell, blamed Ibori’s ex-lawyer Gohil and former Governor Victor Attah for the V-Mobile fraud, saying they were architects of the scam.

Citing a letter from British Airways thanking ernor Ibori for restoring direct flight from Nigeria to the UK, Purnell said the former governor had played a part in supporting UK industry even before he was elected.

In a bid to secure lenient sentence for the ex-governor, Purnell credited him with great achievements in Nigeria, saying that his client should be considered based on every development he brought to Nigeria, from banking reforms to peace in the Niger Delta.

He, however, begged the judge to also consider Ibori’s children who have both parents in the UK prison custody.

In his spirited efforts, Ibori’s lawyer called on the ex-international footballer and close pal to the convict, Mr. John Fashanu, as witness for Ibori to talk about the influence of the Oghara Stadium on the youth of Delta. In his testimony, Fashanu claimed that Ibori built the first shooting range in Nigeria.

Fashanu noted that the ex-governor achieved a lot in sports and was instrumental in the end of militancy in the state.

Earlier on Monday, Ibori’s lawyer grasped at straws and floundered so much even the judge was left exasperated.

Ibori’s lawyer told the judge he intended to pass on details of Ibori’s accomplishments in Delta State in full, including a short video documenting the former governor’s “accomplishments”.

Ibori’s wife Theresa, his sister Christine, his mistress Udoamaka Okoronkwo, and his London solicitor Bhadresh Gohil had been convicted in London for involvement in money-laundering.

But efforts by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to try Ibori for the same charge of money laundering in Nigeria has not been successful.

The EFCC had first arraigned the ex-governor alongside some other accused persons before Justice Mohammed Shuaibu of the Federal High Court in Kaduna on a 103-count charge in December 2007.

But Ibori had challenged the propriety of his arraignment and approached the Court of Appeal in Kaduna for redress, while the appellate court had, on December 19, 2008, held that accused standing trial for corruption should be tried in the state where the alleged offence was committed. The Ibori’s case was consequently transferred to the Federal High Court in Asaba.

He was subsequently arraigned in Asaba before Justice Marcel Awokulehin, who later quashed a 170-count charge against him and discharged Ibori accordingly. The EFCC appealed against the verdict and filed a fresh charge against him. But by then, Ibori was on the run while the EFCC declared him wanted.

Just last Friday, a UK court freed Mr. Elias Minho Preko, who is a former financial advisor to Ibori. During the judgement, the London jury stated that it did not find Preko guilty on three charges bordering on forgery and money laundering.

The jury was however hung on two other counts of money laundering brought against him by the Crown Prosecution.

It would be recalled that Preko was charged alongside former Delta State Governor, Chief James Ibori but Ibori shockingly pleaded guilty to ten selected charges, citing mounting legal bills incurred defending the charges against him.

Ibori’s conviction, landmark in global fight against corruption – HRW

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said that the conviction of Ibori is a landmark in the global fight against corruption.

In a statement made available yesterday by the Africa Director of the HRW, Daniel Bekele, the group said that the world has just got smaller for government officials who believe they could loot their country’s resources with impunity. According to HRW, by prosecuting Ibori, the UK authorities have struck a blow not only against financial crimes at home, but also against impunity for corruption around the globe.

The HRW said, “Ibori might have been untouchable in Nigeria, but not in the United Kingdom, where he had laundered some of his stolen money. London’s Metropolitan Police Service secured an order from a London court, in 2007, to freeze $35 million worth of his foreign assets, including a private jet.

“This case was not just about financial transactions in British banks. It was about acknowledging global responsibility for helping to stop the devastating human cost of corruption in Nigeria.”

EFCC applauds Ibori’s conviction

In a related development, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) yesterday said it was pleased with the conviction of Ibori who has bagged 13 years jail sentence by a Southwark Crown Court in London.

The EFFC said, “EFCC welcomes the conviction which is the icing on a tortuous investigative and legal odyssey for all actors invoved in the Ibori saga.It is reassuring that today’s sentencing of Ibori was based on the foundation of the case built by the EFCC in 2007 which unfortunately was thrown out by the Federal High Court, Asaba for lack of merit. The same fate has lately befallen other EFCC cases, notably the Erastus Akingbola, Ndudil Elumelu , Dimeji Bankole and Gbenga Daniel matters.They were all thrown out by the courts purely on technical grounds without consideration of the subtantive issues.

“The fact that a case which supposedly lacked merit in Nigeria could fetch a 13 year jail term in the UK after a landmark guilty plea, brings to fore the need for a reassessment of the nation’s justice delivery process. We must strenghen our judicial instituitions if we are to make any headway in the anti- graft efforts.More interesting to the Commission in the Ibori conviction, is the opportunity for the repatriation of the array of properties and assets amassed overseas by the convict.Once again, his fate has proven that there is no safe haven abroad for politically exposed persons who looted state funds entrusted in their care”

He restated the commission’s earlier resolve to prosecute Ibori and his ilk in Nigeria, upon completion of his jail term in London.

THISDAY

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