27th February, 2012
A former Nigerian state governor pleaded guilty in a British court on Monday to siphoning off $250 million of Nigerian state funds which he spent on luxury houses, cars and a private jet, police said.
James Ibori, who was governor of Nigeria’s oil-rich Delta State between 1999 and 2007, admitted ten offences relating to conspiracy to launder funds, money laundering and one count of obtaining a money transfer by deception and fraud.
In a boost for the fight against corruption in Africa’s most populous nation, the 49-year-old was remanded in custody following the hearing at a London Southwark Crown court, and will be sentenced at a later date.
The Metropolitan Police said that during his two terms as governor in Nigeria, Ibori “systematically stole funds from the public purse, secreting them in bank accounts across the world”.
“His methods included the inflation of state contracts, kickbacks and the straight lift of cash from the state accounts by unscrupulous employees in his inner circle,” it said in a statement.
Ibori, who lived in Britain in the 1980s, came to the attention of the authorities here in 2005 and two years later a London court froze his British assets, estimated at £35 million (now $55 million, 41 million euros).
Despite earning less than $25,000 a year as governor, his portfolio included a £2.2 million house in the upmarket London district of Hampstead and a £3.2 million mansion in Johannesburg’s wealthy Sandton district in South Africa.
He owned a $20 million jet and a fleet of armoured Range Rovers and spent money on fees for exclusive British boarding schools and expensive hotels.
Ibori was first arrested by Nigeria’s anti-corruption agency, the Economic Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), in December 2007, after losing immunity after leaving office.
Two years later, a court in his home town of Asaba dismissed 170 charges of corruption against him, citing a lack of evidence.
But the case was reopened in April 2010, prompting Ibori to flee to Dubai. He was arrested there and a year later was extradited to Britain for trial.
Ibori’s wife Theresa, his sister Christine Ibori-Ibie and his mistress Udoamaka Oniugbo are currently each serving five-year sentences in British prisons, while a number of his associates have also been jailed, police said.
Britain’s International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell, whose department funded the investigation by the Metropolitan Police’s Proceeds of Corruption Unit, welcomed Monday’s guilty pleas.
“James Ibori’s crimes have had a devastating effect on the lives of his fellow Nigerians — the very people he was once elected to serve,” he said.
“The millions he stole were meant to help them, but they were left to struggle in poverty as he lived in luxury.”
The Met’s corruption unit is a specialist team that investigates the activities of foreign officials who seek to launder stolen assets in Britain.
Police Detective Inspector Paul Whatmore said: “We will now be actively seeking the confiscation of all of his stolen assets so they can be repatriated for the benefit of the people of Delta State.”
Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil producer, is regularly ranked among the most corrupt countries in the world.