BY JONAH NWOKPOKU, with agency reports
A British prosecutor has said that the former governor of Delta State who was convicted of corruption charges and is currently serving a jail term in London hid some of his assets in Oando Plc.
The prosecutor, Sasha Wass told the court, yesterday, that money passed from the company’s accounts to Ibori’s Swiss account.
Reuter’s news agency reported that a three-week confiscation hearing began at London’s Southwark Crown Court yesterday during which prosecutors will present evidence of Ibori’s assets and seek court orders to have them seized.
Defence lawyers are, however, expected to dispute the prosecution case.
Wass told the Reuters without giving further details that, “The Crown will assert that Oando is a company where James Ibori has hidden assets.”
The matter was raised briefly as part of an initial discussion of various aspects of the confiscation hearing. Details are expected to be disclosed later in the proceedings.
Oando is not a party to the case, although a British lawyer was in court representing the company’s interests.
This goes to prove speculations from some quarters that Ibori stole more than suspected. For instance at the time of his sentencing in April 2012, Judge Anthony Pitts said the £50 million that he had admitted to stealing may be a ‘ludicrously low’ fraction of his total booty, which could be more than £200 million.
This confiscation hearing is expected to shed further light on the scale of Ibori’s wealth and determine whether he emerges from jail impoverished or still in possession of a large enough fortune.
Ibori was not in court during the hearing but his lawyer Ivan Krolick said, although he did not wish to attend the confiscation hearing, he would come to court to give evidence if necessary.
Recall that Ibori was jailed for 13 years in Britain after pleading guilty in February 2012 to 10 counts of fraud and money-laundering worth more than N1 billion.
…Ibori doesn’t own part of our assets — Oando
In its reaction, Oando, however, denied that Mr Ibori owns a large part of its assets. The company in a statement said “We state categorically that Mr. James Ibori does not own ‘a large part of Oando’ and that this statement is incorrect and misleading. Oando is a publicly traded company listed on the Nigerian and Johannesburg Stock Exchanges and does not and cannot control the trading in its securities on the floor of the respective exchanges.
Based on our current shareholding register, Mr. James Ibori’s shareholding stands at 443 shares out of a total issued and paid up share capital of 6.8 billion ordinary shares, which is clearly insignificant, and cannot be considered as ‘a large part of Oando’.
Continuing, Oando also stated that it does accept that sometime in 2004, in the normal course of its business, it sold some of its foreign exchange earnings for Naira and the recipient of the US Dollars was a company which has now turned out to be one controlled by James Ibori.
At the time of the transaction, this information was unknown to Oando. The total amount was $2.7 million made in three separate transactions over a period of about seven months. This amount was insignificant considering the company’s turnover of approximately $800million in 2004.
The above constitutes the only transactions between Oando and any company controlled by Mr. Ibori. Consequently, Oando cannot be described as a company where James Ibori has hidden assets as a result of these foreign exchange transactions.