James Onanefe Ibori, a former Nigerian governor and public mega thief who escaped justice in his country because of a corrupt judiciary but was convicted in London for money laundering has been set free, several reports said on Wednesday, quoting the decision of a London court.
He is likely to face fresh charges in Nigeria.
Mr. Ibori was the governor of Delta State between 1999 and 2007 and was acquitted in Nigeria after the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, took him to court for money laundering and theft of public assets.
He left Nigeria for Dubai during the crisis that ended with Mr. Goodluck Jonathan, then the Vice President, replacing President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua who was sick and later died.
On 13 May 2010, Ibori was arrested in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, under Interpol arrest warrants issued from United Kingdom courts and enacted by the Metropolitan Police.
He was eventually granted bail pending an extradition hearing.
In London, where Ibori was being sought in the case of money laundering, the authority continued with the prosecution of his associates who were in the dock for helping him launder millions of pounds.
On 1 and 2 June 2010, UK juries found James Ibori’s sister, Christine Ibie-Ibori and Mr. Ibori’s associate, Udoamaka Okoronkwo, guilty on counts of money laundering.
The verdict was delivered at the Southwark Crown Court, London.
Mr. James Ibori, via his media aide released a statement questioning the validity of the verdict which he claimed absolved the two other women, Ms Okoronkwo and Adebimpe Pogoson who were charged alongside his sister.
The jury’s verdict of 2 June 2010 however returned a guilty decision against Okoronkwo as well.
Christine Ibie-Ibori and Udoamaka Okoronkwo were each sentenced to 5 years in prison on Monday 7 June 2010 by the UK court even as the defense counsel pleaded for mercy that the convicts were merely manipulated by James Ibori.
With that judgement, Ibori himself was extradited to London and it was only a matter of time before he was convicted himself.
On 27 February 2012, accused of stealing US$250 million from the Nigerian public purse, Ibori pleaded guilty to ten counts of money laundering and conspiracy to defraud at Southwark Crown Court, London.
On Tuesday, April 17, 2012, Ibori was sentenced to 13 years by Southwark Crown Court for his crimes. He has just served four year jail term and was being released following an appeal.
Reports said a technical error by the prosecution led to the appeal.
Among possessions confiscated were:
- A house in Hampstead, north London, for £2.2m
- A property in Shaftesbury, Dorset, for £311,000
- A £3.2m mansion in Sandton, near Johannesburg, South Africa
- A fleet of armoured Range Roversvalued at £600,000
- A £120,000 Bentley Continental GT
- A Mercedes-BenzMaybach 62 bought for €407,000 cash, that was shipped direct to his mansion in South Africa
After the sentencing hearing, Sue Patten, head of the Crown Prosecution Service central fraud group, said it would bid to confiscate the assets Ibori had acquired his riches “at the expense of some of the poorest people in the world”.
Following the guilty plea entered by Ibori, the EFCC brought before an Appeal Court the 6 year old ruling of a Federal High Court in Asaba which acquitted Ibori in 2009.
EFCC sought the court to set aside the ruling of the lower court on the grounds that the presiding judge, Justice Awokulehin, erred in law while delivering his judgement.
A three-man panel of justices at the Benin Division of the Court of Appeal on May 15, 2014 ruled that the ex- governor has a case to answer. With this judgment, the coast is clear for Ibori to face further trial in Nigeria upon the completion of his jail term in London.