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Ex-Nigerian State Governor Pleads Guilty To Financial Crimes In UK

A former Nigerian State Governor pleaded guilty at a court in Britain on Monday to charges of money laundering as well as several other financial crimes including embezzlement of public funds while in office.

James Ibori, the ex-governor of Nigeria's oil-rich Delta State, entered the guilty plea at the start of his trial at London's Southwark Crown Court. In his plea, Ibori admitted to stealing money from Delta State and laundering it in London by using several offshore companies. He will now be sentenced on April 16.

British authorities accuse Ibori, whose annual salary as Delta State Governor was less than $25,000, of stealing some $250 million from state funds and laundering the stolen money using British banks and foreign companies based overseas. A court in London had frozen $35 million in cash and assets owned by Ibori in 2007, but he had left the country by then.

Three of the money laundering charges pressed against Ibori were linked to the sale of Delta State's share in mobile phone company V-Mobile to neighboring Akwa Ibom state. Ibori is accused of stealing $37 million from the proceedings and laundering the stolen money with the help of his London solicitor Bhadresh Gohil.

Gohil as well as Ibori's wife Theresa, his sister Christine and his mistress Udoamaaka Okoronkwo have already been convicted on money laundering charges. Their convictions were made public only on Monday due to reporting restrictions.

In addition to the current case, Ibori has been convicted in Britain on two earlier occasions, once in 1991 for stealing money with the help of his wife and then in 1992 for being in possession of a stolen credit card and using it to illegally withdraw about $1,500.

Ibori was arrested in Dubai in May, 2010 and was subsequently extradited to Britain to stand trial. His arrest was based on an international warrant issued by the Interpol on the initiation of British authorities.

Before being arrested in Dubai, Ibori was detained in Nigeria on corruption charges. But those charges were later dismissed. Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) suspect Ibori of stealing about 44 billion naira ($292 million) in state funds during his term in office.

The EFCC has since requested UK's Metropolitan Police to look into the former Governor's financial affairs, so that the money he embezzled from Delta State could be repatriated for the benefit of the people in the Nigerian state.

Although Nigeria is the world's eighth largest exporter of crude oil, with earnings of more than $1.19 trillion in oil revenue over the past 37 years, majority of its 140 million people live in poverty. Experts blame the country's high poverty levels on poor performance in governance and corruption.

The EFCC had arrested senior serving and former government officials on corruption charges in the past, but failed in most occasions to make the charges stick. However, President Goodluck Jonathan, who was re-elected in the April elections, has promised to tackle Nigeria's endemic corruption effectively.

by RTTNews Staff Writer

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