By Eze Anaba, London
LONDON—It took Justice Nicholas Pitts, just one hour to end the five-year legal ordeal of former governor of Delta State, Chief James Ibori, whom he sentenced to spend 13 years in a United Kingdom prison. The sentence ended the legal battle between the strongman of Delta State politics and the combined powers of the EFCC and the UK legal system.
Effectively, Chief Ibori who did not betray any emotion, will spend about four and half years in prison considering the deductions the judge made to the conviction.
In passing the sentence, the judge said that he considered the fact that Chief Ibori pleaded guilty to the V-mobile case and to money laundering on the eve of the commencement of the trial which he said could have lasted six months. He also praised Chief Ibori’s courage to plead guilty considering the fact that one of his co-accused had been freed on a similar charge.
The judge further considered the fact that since the prison calender is different from the normal calender, that means Ibori is expected to spend half of the jail term which is six and half years. He also said he would deduct the 645 days he had spent in detention facilities both in Dubai and UK. For that he deducted 645 days from the six and half years. It means that he would spend about four and half years in prison in the UK. The judge therefore sentenced him to one year each for money laundering offences and three years for the sale of V-mobile shares.
In a disarming cavalier manner, Justice Pitts started the sentencing at about 2.30pm by saying: “I am going to pass a sentence for the crime you have committed. On any view these are serious offences that will inevitably attract lengthy sentences”.
With that he reviewed the prosecution’s case against Ibori and concluded that his offences must have impacted negatively on his people while he refused to take into account the character witness of Nigerian ex-international football star John Fashanu by saying that the weighty things they credited to Ibori did not concern him. “I am not assessing your tenure as governor of Delta (Delta State). I accept that there is another side of you that is good as painted by John Fashanu”. He, however, said that pales into insignificance considering the issues raised by the prosecution which he said he could not ignore.
“During those two terms (as governor) you turned yourself in very short order indeed into a multi-millionaire through corruption,” Judge Anthony Pitts told Ibori at the end of a two-day sentencing at Southwark Crown Court in London.
Pitts said it was one of the biggest money-laundering cases seen and that the 50 million pounds Ibori had admitted to stealing may be a “ludicrously low” fraction of his total booty.
“The figure may be in excess of 200 million pounds, it is difficult to tell. The confiscation proceedings may shed some further light on the enormity of the sums involved.”
He also said that the official figure stated that James Ibori stole 50 million pounds while it could be up to 250milllion pounds.
He therefore found him guilty of money laundering and conspiracy to make instruments contrary to section 1 (1) (a) of the criminal act of 1977 over the sale of Delta State government shares in the V-mobile case.
After passing the sentence, the court met the police team that compiled Chief Ibori’s property all over the world and ordered that forfeiture of the property should start immediately.
He had raised the hope of Chief Ibori that he would get a lighter sentence by resorting to arithmetic saying that he would get a proper ‘discount for all the charges he pleaded guilty to’. He dashed the hope by embracing the damaging testimonies of the prosecution.
Retired football star, John Fashanu had waltzed into the court room to give character assessment of the former governor and he reeled out the achievements of James Ibori. He said he volunteered to give the assessment because he believed in his achievements.
In May 2010, Ibori was arrested in the United Arab Emirates on an international warrant obtained by the Metropolitan Police. He was extradited to the United Kingdom in April 2011, and arraigned on 23 counts of money laundering, forgery, and fraud. On February 27, 2012, as his trial was set to begin, Ibori pleaded guilty to seven counts of money laundering, one count of conspiracy to commit forgery, one count of obtaining property by deception, and one count of conspiracy to defraud.