Ibori

By Tony Eluemunor

Phone calls have poured in asking if ICPC’s Chairman, Prof Bolaji Owasononye has replied to my offering of 30th November titled, “Ibori’s Corruption Trial Ordeal; Enlightenment for ICPC Chairman.” My reply: “he is a busy man, we should give him time.”

Some of the callers asked: “If no proof of corruption was tendered against Ibori in London, and the prosecution could not go the proof-beyond-all-reasonable-doubts way but relied on inference, why were Nigerians so deceived as to believe that a corrupt Nigerian judiciary handled him with kid gloves”?

The reason is simple, and such too must have been on Prof Owosanonye’s mind when he unjustly excoriated the Nigerian judiciary at a television programme late November and made the statement I replied to in my above-mentioned s piece; that Ibori had no other source of income while he was Delta state’s governor.  For instance, Mr Olusegun Adeniyi implied so in THISDAY of September 20, 2012. And Mr Adeniyi is a highly respected columnist. But Nigerians, not being great askers of questions believed the nonsense.

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Relying on the 44-page document filed by the London Metropolitan Police and the Prosecution against Ibori in court, I’ll prove that even London Police, Prosecution and Ribadu’s EFCC knew Ibori had other sources of income.  It bore a simple title: “R versus James Ibori. Opening Note For Sentence.” Line one; “the Defendant, James Ibori, was the Governor of Delta State, one of the richest oil-producing states in Nigeria. The second item; “He deliberately and systematically defrauded the people whose interests he had been elected to represent.”

Third item: “The total sum that Mr Ibori has stolen remains unquantified. However, the sums that formed the subject of the two indictments to which Ibori has pleaded guilty amount to approximately fifty Million Pounds.”

Yet, most news organizations said Ibori had pleaded guilty to stealing £350. The Guardian of London, which reported the $50 sum, added that Ibori “amassed a portfolio of six properties outside Nigeria worth $6.9m at a time he was being paid $4,000 a year as state governor of the Delta region” (meaning he had no other sources of income).

“The properties in London included a flat in St John’s Wood, a house in Hampstead, and one in Regent’s Park. He also had a £3m mansion in South Africa and properties in Texas and in Dorset, near to where his children attended private school.

Ibori also bought a fleet of luxury cars, and in three years ran up £920,000 on his American Express Centurion card—a card only available to the super-rich, Wass told the court. In 2005, Ibori instructed a London solicitor to buy a private jet costing $20m” she added.

Now, on whether Ibori had other sources of income, may we jump to page 14 of that same document, item 81, which touched on MER Engineering? “MER was a company that was incorporated in Nigeria in 1990.  It built houseboats, which were rented out to oil workers in the Delta. It was Ibori who was able to influence the contracts with Chevron and Shell and the NNPC”

Item 83: “It was MER money that paid for the Ibori property in Hampstead, Westover Hill: Count 5. Item 84, “It was MER money that paid for the house Ibori bought in Houston Texas. Item 85, “it was MER money that paid for the deposit for the $20 million Challenger Jet aeroplane that Mr Ibori was in the process of buying when his monies were restrained by the UK courts.” The deposit was $4.7; Ibori’s share in a commercial aviation outfit that was also mentioned in court, and not for a private jet.

Yet, Sahara Reporters, Oct. 19, 2007, wrote with all the authority and nastiness it could muster (and Nigerians clapped for Omoyele Sowore): “How James Ibori bought a Bombardier challenger jet from Canada” was the title. Sowore’s outfit wrote: “Documents available to Sahara reporters paint a picture of how former Governor James Ibori of Delta State used international collaborators, offshore shell companies and local assistants to buy a Bombardier Challenger jet from Bombardier Aerospace Incorporated, Canada’s leading private jet manufacturing company.” So, has the London Police and Prosecution not labelled SR and those behind it liars?

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Sowore exited the DSS detention on Christmas Eve. Nigerians condemned his detention. But when Sowore himself cooperated with certain arms of Government, no accused, in his sight, merited constitutional protection. Not even the Elombha brothers (of Elombah.com) arrest could make Sowore speak up.

Also, Sowore usually refuses to publish a reply from a person his report has wronged. He believed in all the extra-judicial steps Nuhu Ribadu ever took. He believed in impunity.

Adding the $4 million for the jet to the $6 million for the properties, sums that came from MER Engineering brings the entire sum to $10 million. If you make allowance for police exaggeration of property costs, you would have a sum that is below $8 million. It is a huge amount, but it is nowhere near £50 or £250 million bandied about. And the monies, it is now clear, came from MER Engineering accounts.

Please, who could explain this: item 183 of the same court document: “MER had an account at Barclays bank in Knightsbridge. The Money went from the oil companies straight out of Nigeria and into MER account in Barclays.” And that too is a crime?

Item 29: “Mr Ibori used money defrauded from the people of Nigeria to buy a property in Houston in Texas… “only to see in Item 84, “It was MER money that paid for the house Ibori bought in Houston Texas’.

Ibori’s many sins for which he was convicted included this terribly grave crime: Item 34: “In addition to his millionaire lifestyle, Ibori called himself “HIS EXCELLENCY”, a title not recognized by the constitution.” Yes, this was one of the charges Ibori faced!

I wonder how the influential Financial Times of London will now view its “Probe into Chevron and Shell payments” story of 16/11/2007 by Michael Peel and Dino Mahtani: “A UK court affidavit seen by the Financial Times says there is reasonable cause to believe Mr Ibori bled money from his oil-rich state and bought assets including a $20m jet.” Ah, that jet again! Now that it is clear Ibori bought no private jet, who will tell the world that Ribadu’s EFCC was behind that affidavit?

The FT story continued: “The affidavit says the “purportedly legitimate” payments were for the rental of two houseboats for oil workers, although it suspects the transfers were “corrupt payments rather than in exchange for legitimate services.

Nuhu Ribadu told the FT he was “investigating huge payments made by Shell and Chevron to MER Engineering” over the hiring of the houseboats.

FT wrote: “Chevron confirmed it had hired two houseboats from MER. It said it believed it had complied with anti-corruption laws.

“SHELL said MER was on its register of approved contractors”. So, too, did NNPC. Yet, Ibori’s assets were not only frozen, but he was also found guilty though the papers the British Prosecution filed in court agreed that Ibori’s company earned the money through houseboats hiring contracts.

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Media manipulation and political persecution were in full sail! Journalists, media houses, ICPC chairman—and the public too—fell for it.  Ibori was the victim.

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