By Tony Eluemunor
Two weeks ago, the Nigerian mass media showed they are still game for any swindler who wants to manipulate them. That was when the British National Crime Agency (NCA) released a report of its internal investigation of allegations leveled against some members of the team that had investigated and prosecuted Chief James OnanefeIbori and his associates in the long-running London trial.
The report concluded that despite the anomalies, police corruption, and prosecutorial defects uncovered, it was of the opinion that all such would not be enough to upturn the conviction verdict against Ibori and his associates. But it was passed through a certain online publication for colouration.
Immediately that report reached several media houses, unexplained riot of ideas ensued. Many respected media outfits published that “British Court says that Ibori’s Conviction Stands”. Many TV stations kept running that deceptive information bars from the Thursday when the news broke till Saturday.
How it escaped them that the report was clearly specified to be that of an internal Police investigation done by the National Crime Agency, has not yet been explained. It also did not occur to such pretenders to journalistic professionalism that no court appearance was mentioned in that report, no name of any Judge was mentioned and no date too.
So, how did numerous newspapers and TV stations delude themselves so terribly? My only suspicion is that when some persons and organisations are predisposed to believe only the very worst about a person, they would manufacture the bad news about such a person even when only a good story has popped up.
Yet, even how such persons were able to misread a normal report and ascribed to it even what the report never claimed remains inexplicable. If only the media houses involved had asked themselves the simply question of what really was at stake, they would have arrived at the simple conclusion that the Police and not Ibori, was on trial there.
The matter was simply this: were some policemen and women who had investigated Ibori and his associates, including some prosecutors receiving money to divulge information? Would that be an act of corruption? Did the prosecutors suppress information that would have painted Ibori in good light, thereby misleading the courts?
For instance, what if some sources of Ibori’s wealth were easily available to the prosecution even four years ago, and yet they still kept insisting two years later that Ibori had no other sources of income, except his Governor’s salary, would that amount to court manipulation?
What if really there was a forensic report, prepared by British experts, which posited that Ibori did not steal any funds from Delta State, and the prosecution suppressed it, would that amount to court manipulation?
To be overly magnanimous to a large section of the Nigerian media, I would blame their misleading reports on ridiculous ignorance about the case. How many reporters and commentators on the Ibori case actually know that the British Police and prosecution, from day one never set out to prove any act of corruption against Ibori – beyond any reasonable doubt, as is supposed to be done in a criminal case?
Those people knew they could not provide such proof, even in a million years, and so rested their case on the R v Anwoir case and its judgment of 27 June 2008.
In that case, the prosecution could not prove that the undeclared money found on Mr. Anwoir, an Arab, at a the Heathrow Airport came from crime and so argued it derived from “conduct of a specific kind or kinds and that conduct of that kind or those kinds was unlawful; and (b) by evidence of the circumstances in which the property had been handled which were such as to give rise to the irresistible inference that it could only have been derived from crime” and the money was seized on nothing but grounds of inference alone. Ibori and associates were also charged and convicted on the Anwoir precedent.
Now, what if part of what the investigative report found the Prosecution guilty of, willful and malicious nondisclosure, involved the source of Ibori’s money? Would that not change the case substantially?
You bet it would!
At Friday 11th October’s hearing of the Ibori London trial, the Southwark, London courtroom was crowded with media representation. This is the most telling sign that the case has changed, and the erstwhile hunters, the Police and the Prosecution, have turned the hunted as they are defending themselves from charges of corruption and criminal misleading of the court in a bid to secure conviction against Chief James OnanefeIbori and his associates.
The journalists came in droves because some 5,000 pages of papers documenting police violations, infringements, deliberate lies and outright malfeasance were promised to be on display as they would be handed over to the court.
But the journalists were disappointed as the promised disclosure of the incriminating material demonstrating the police corruption and prosecutorial misconduct did not take place. This was because the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) had issued a gagging order on the defence teams from disclosing the incriminating material.
This made the media, as represented by Mr. David Rose of the Mail on Sunday, to make a representation directly to the judge for the dissemination of the material disclosed by the National Crime Agency, which carried out the internal review of the Police actions and uncovered the massive police misconduct.
Mr. Rose argued in court that “the public has a right to know of the degree and depth of the police corruption in the case”. But the Judge declined the request, saying that “the matter has now been referred to the Court of Appeal and therefore any application should be made at that Court”.
Last Sunday’s London Mail provided glaring details of that court session. Its lengthy title was telling: “How top QC ‘buried evidence of Met bribes to put innocent man in jail’: Whistleblower alerted court that ‘organised crime’ had infiltrated police… then they said He had perverted course of justice.”
Right from its opening sentence, the report showed how far and how much the Ibori case has changed: One of the country’s top prosecutors, Ms Sasha Wass (Queen’s Counsel, QC, British equivalent of Senior Advocate of Nigeria) is facing professional ruin following sensational claims in a London courtroom that she lied to judges in order to hide damning evidence of police corruption – at the risk of sending an innocent man to jail.
At the heart of the growing scandal, whose origins were exposed by this newspaper (The Mail) in February, is Sasha Wass QC, the barrister who prosecuted entertainer Rolf Harris and the £2 billion rogue trader KwekuAdoboli.
A court has heard claims that MsWass not only buried an official report by the Metropolitan Police confirming there was evidence that officers in its anti-corruption unit had taken bribes, but that she prosecuted the lawyer who brought the report to the attention of the authorities for perverting the course of justice.
The alleged attempted cover-up almost led to a lengthy prison sentence for the man who blew the whistle, BhadreshGohil.
The revelations were contained in a secret 4,300-page dossier cited in court last Friday. They include the results of an investigation by Scotland Yard’s Directorate of Professional Standards (DPS), which reports to Met Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe.The inquiry, led by Commander Peter Spindler, was said to show that a Met unit set up to investigate financial corruption was itself corrupted by ex-Met officers working for a private investigation firm, RISC Management.
In a sensational volte face, a CPS spokesman (Friday) admitted it is now clear that, contrary to repeated statements by Crown lawyers in court and in legal documents, there is ‘material to support the assertion that a police officer received payment in return for information’.
MrGohil’s lawyer, Stephen Kamlish QC, stated in court on Friday that when MrGohil was charged, the police, the prosecuting barristers and the CPS all had possession of the file containing the evidence of the Met’s infiltration by RISC. Furthermore, Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders authorised the prosecution of MrGohil, and continued to oversee the case until it was dropped 18 months later. MrGohil has now been paid £20,000 in an out-of-court settlement.
MrKamlish said in court: ‘The document was tampered with in order to mislead the Court of Appeal.’We have come across the clearest evidence that prosecuting counsel, Sasha Wass QC and Esther Schutzer-Weissmann, along with lawyers from the CPS and a number of officers from the DPS all prosecuted my client knowing he was innocent.’
Legal experts said that for one QC to make allegations of this kind against colleagues was probably unprecedented. But MrKamlish said: ‘Everything I said in court is fully supported by the evidence supplied by the prosecution and is in accordance with my professional duties and responsibilities.’
Friday’s hearing at Southwark Crown Court concerned the Crown’s attempt to confiscate Chief Ibori’s property. But the legal battle is set to move to the Court of Appeal, where MrGohil has applied to reopen his money-laundering case. Ibori and the other defendants will also mount fresh appeals.
Last Friday, the Court saw some of the evidence demonstrating the degree and depth of corruption. These were displayed on the court screens. For example, one document showed how the Court of Appeal in the Gohil case was misled by the CPS/Wass /Weissman and Williams doctoring the document and removing very key phrases demonstrating the corruption in the original case. The Court of Appeal was therefore told there was nothing to disclose. It was deliberately misled.
The initiative now lies with Ibori, not the British Police. Or as counsel to BhdreshGohil, one of the Ibori associates in the case put it, “The principal question before the court is whether the convictions are safe by virtue of the Crown Prosecution Service and prosecuting counsel having deliberately misled the courts on a number of occasions in respect of a number of defendants over a period of five years.”