7th December, 2010
The road to any prison is certainly not paved with gold or silver. But the allure isÂ proving irresistible to James Onanefe Ibori, former governor of Nigeriaâ€™s DeltaÂ State. Still waiting to overturn a Dubai court 17 October order that he should beÂ extradited to Britain to face the charge of money laundering, Ibori has a lot toÂ worry about as British prosecutors scored another stunning victory when BhadreshÂ Gohil, his London-based lawyer entered a guilty plea at the opening of a new trialÂ involving the theft of V-Mobile shares in Nigeria. P.M.NEWS
P.M.NEWSgathered that it would be the second Ibori-related case for Gohil thisÂ year. Two weeks ago, the Southwark Court convicted the lawyer on anotherÂ money-laundering charge, in a trial that also involved Iboriâ€™s wife, Theresa NkoyoÂ Ibori. Mrs. Ibori was also convicted and is currently serving a five-year sentenceÂ in a London prison. The court deferred Mr. Gohilâ€™s sentencing until the conclusionÂ of the trial that began yesterday.
A London-based legal expert told Saharareporters that, in pleading guilty to theÂ fresh eight-count charge, Mr. Gohil may have signalled that he could not wriggle outÂ of the water-tight case that the UK Crown Prosecutor has against him.
â€œMr. Gohilâ€™s guilty plea is going to make it tougher, if not impossible, for Mr.Â Ibori to fend off the British governmentâ€™s request for his extradition from Dubai toÂ face numerous money laundering charges in London,â€ the expert added.
Although the trial was expected to last for three weeks, Mr. Gohil told the courtÂ that he wanted to plead guilty. His motion for a guilty plea was accepted andÂ recorded.
The legal expert told us that Mr. Bhadresh Gohil joins the rare company of the fewÂ UK lawyers to be convicted for money laundering.
Southwark Crown Court judge, Christopher Hardy, who once referred to Gohil as theÂ â€œpredicate offenderâ€ alongside Mr. Ibori â€“ who is currently appealing a ruling forÂ his extradition from Dubai to London â€“ did not say much at the court session.
In court yesterday, two other accused, Lambertus De Boer and Daniel McCann, pleadedÂ not guilty. British prosecutors accused Gohil of participating in the laundering ofÂ funds realized from the sale of V-Mobile shares owned by the governments of DeltaÂ and Akwa Ibom.
Other Nigerian officials accused in the scam are currently at large. They includeÂ Mr. Ibori, former Governor Victor Obong Attah of Akwa Ibom, David Edevbie, a formerÂ Principal Secretary to Umaru Yarâ€™Adua, Love Ojakovo, a former commissioner ofÂ finance to Ibori and Henry Imashekka, a business associate of Ibori.
The accused face 14 counts of forgery and money laundering in relation to the saleÂ of V-Mobile telecoms shares by Akwa Ibom and Delta States. The accused menÂ reportedly used front companies to defraud the Nigerian states of a total of $37.8Â million realized from the sale of the shares.
Prosecutors allege that a company named â€œAfrica Development Finance Companyâ€ was theÂ major conduit used to steal the funds.
In an instance cited in the case summary, prosecutors state that an $11 million loanÂ was purportedly granted to an aviation company that assisted Mr. Ibori in purchasingÂ a jet from Canada; $10 million was given to â€œAscot Offshore Nigeria Limited,â€ theÂ company that Ibori used to purchase Wilbros; and another $790,000 was granted toÂ another fake firm â€œAfrica Development Co.â€ and an offshore nominee firm.
The charges of forgery concern Mr. De Boer and McCann. They are accused of violatingÂ the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act of the UK by creating fake documents betweenÂ Delta State and Africa Finance Ltd., and also between Delta and African DevelopmentÂ Company. They are also accused of creating a false account that used both menâ€™sÂ names as beneficiaries as part of a scheme to hide the fraudulent nature of theÂ transactions.