By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The Federal Government is currently reviewing the case-file of convicted former Governor of Delta State, Chief James Ibori, Vanguard has learnt.
The exercise which is being conducted by office of the Attorney General of the Federation and the Prof. Itse Sagay-led Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, PACAC, will involve a reassessment of the 170-count charge the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, initially entered against Ibori who returned to the country on Saturday after serving jail term in London.
A source at the Federal Ministry of Justice who pleaded anonymity, told Vanguard that the process was activated even before Ibori’s return.
“The Federal Government through the AGF, PACAC and the EFCC have commenced the process of reviewing the case-file. I can authoritatively tell you that the review will be holistic and thorough considering all that have taken place so far in the matter.
“There might be fresh angles that could possibly result in amendment of the already existing 170-count charge pending against Ibori.
“The AGF was earlier weighing the option of initiating an extradition process against him but fortunately he returned to the country voluntarily”, the source added.
Meanwhile, neither the AGF, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, nor Chairman of PACAC, Prof Sagay responded to inquiry on the issue as at press time, as calls placed to their telephones lines were not answered.
It will be recalled that the Benin Division of the Court of Appeal had on May 15, 2014, cleared the coast for Ibori to face money laundering charges in Nigeria upon completion of his 13-year jail term in London.
A three-man panel of justices of the appellate court led by Justice Ibrahim Saulawa, held that the ex- governor still has a case to answer.
Ruling of the court came six years after Justice Marcel Awokulehin of the Federal High Court in Asaba, sensationally struck out the entire 170-count charge EFCC earlier slammed against Ibori.
While discharging the accused former governor, Justice Awokulehin, in his judgment, insisted that EFCC failed to establish a prima-facie case against him.
Dissatisfied with the decision, EFCC took the matter before the appellate court where it insisted the trial judge erred in law and occasioned a miscarriage of justice by discharging the accused person despite “an overwhelming proof of evidence tendered in support of the charge”.
Other members of the appeal court panel that not only vacated the verdict of Justice Awokulehin, but also okayed Ibori for fresh trial, were Justices P. M Ekpe and H. A. Barka.
EFCC had in its appeal contended that the trial judge looked at the proof of evidence and evaluated same as if the prosecution had called all its witnesses and trial concluded.
It was also its contention that the trial court conducted summary trial in the case rather that trial by indictment or information.
Besides, EFCC insisted that the proof of evidence adduced before the court clearly showed that a prima facie case was established against the accused/ respondent and that the trial judge erred when he held that no case was disclosed against the accused/ respondent.
The prosecuting agency argued that the judgment was unwarranted, unreasonable and against the weight of proof of evidence filed in support of the charges.
While upholding the appeal as meritorious, Justice Salauwa resolved all the four issues for determination in favour of the EFCC and directed that the matter be re-assigned to another judge of the Federal High Court for continuation of trial.
Others the appellate court equally okayed for trial were Ibori’s alleged girlfriend, Miss Udoamaka Okoronkwo and one Chinedu Ebie.
Ibori was among other allegations, accused of siphoning about N40billion from the state treasury.
He was equally accused of attempting to bribe the first Chairman of the EFCC, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu with $15m in 2007 to stop further investigation into money laundering allegations against him.
The Delta State Government under Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan had on October 25, 2013, failed to persuade the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court to grant it ownership of the controversial $15m bribe money.
In a judgment by Justice Gabriel Kolawole, the court, ordered that the money which had been in custody of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, since April 26, 2007, be forfeited to the Federal Government.
The Judge held that Delta state government failed to produce satisfactory evidence establishing that Ibori looted the controversial money from its treasury while in office as Governor between May 1999 to May 2007.
One Chibuike Achigbu who identified himself as an oil magnate, had on August 29, 2012, approached the high court to lay claim to the $15m.
In an application he filed through a consortium of lawyers, among whom were three Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SAN, Achigbu, told the court that he gave the money to Dr. Andy Uba, a former aide to the then President, Olusegun Obasanjo, for the purpose of financing Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, during the 2007 general elections.
Achigbu’s application was however thrown-out by the high court which awarded substantial cost against him.