Monday, February 27, 2012

My Name is James Onanefe Ibori, I Plead Guilty to Theft and Other Related Offence

Ibori's mug shot
Sahara Reporters/New York - When James Ibori stood up in court on Monday, February 26, 2012, and said the word “guilty”, there was no sound of shock or surprise in the court. But there was a change in atmosphere when it became clear that what had been a legalistic to-and-fro between the prosecutor and the judge, with Ibori’s defence rising only to say they “agreed the amendments”, meant the complete and immediate collapse of James Onafene Ibori.

Some of the Nigerians, who had queued for an hour to get into court, became short tempered and started talking during the proceedings.
There were faces with knitted brows and dead-serious demeanours.

Ibori himself looked resigned. He sat slumped in his chair, as one might after a long and tiresome paddle upriver in a canoe, before being taken down to the cells. Unlike on previous occasions, he did not wave to his supporters or smile at them, evidence he was mentally transitioning away from them and from the limelight.

In previous trials of his associates in crime, his wife Theresa Nkoyo Ibori had taken that lonely walk before being sentenced. So had his sister, Christine Ibie-Ibori; one of his mistresses, the boisterous Udoamaka Okoronkwo (nee Onuigbo), and one of his London-based lawyers, Bhadresh Gohil. The court would sentence each of them to at least five years for their part in helping Mr. Ibori to separate the poor people of Delta State from their development resources.

In the past few days, sections of the Nigerian press had reported that a “plea bargain” might have been reached late last week. But if anyone thought Ibori was in for a “soft landing”, prosecutor Sasha Wass, QC immediately dispelled such impressions.

“Mr Ibori lied his way into public office,” she stated, matter-of-factly. He deceived the authorities and the voters. "He was never the legitimate governor and there was effectively a thief in government house. As the pretender of that public office, he was able to plunder Delta state's wealth and hand out patronage. As the illegitimate recipient of public office he was able to bleed the public purse.”

The prosecution estimates they could recover as much as $250,000,000 from Ibori.

“He personally awarded and signed these inflated contracts to his people, and the profits came directly to himself to fund his lavish lifestyle,” Miss Wass said.

She said the prosecution had overwhelming evidence to prove he had corruptly defrauded Delta State, and that reports in the Nigerian media that the case was based on rumours and gossip were unfounded.

“He siphoned off millions by personally awarding contracts to his people,” she said. “We have evidence he was in control of these funds: documents signed by Mr Ibori, controlling bank accounts and trust funds, which had no explicable source other than corruption.”

But the breakthrough for the prosecution came two weeks earlier when Judge Anthony Pitts accepted the prosecution’s request to admit the evidence not only of his previous convictions in the UK for theft and fraud, but that the prosecution could tell the jury that under the Nigerian constitution he should never have been allowed to be governor.

Ibori, wearing a maroon shirt and dark suit, hunching over to read the charges from paper held up to him by one of his legal representatives, stood in the dock and pleaded guilty to 10 counts of fraud and money laundering. He pleaded guilty to seven of the 14 he was to face this week, and three of the nine he was to face next year in what had been dubbed the “V-Mobile trial”.

This trial was about the corrupt sale of shares worth $37,000,000 in the V-Mobile company to Celtel, which also involved former Akwa Ibom governor Victor Attah and others. He pleaded not guilty to six of the charges relating to the “V-Mobile trial”.

The prosecutor said those charges would remain on file, but that they did not believe it was in the interest of the British public to pursue the trial further.

Outside the court, Ibori’s supporters, none of whom would give their names, remonstrated with journalists, accusing them of bias and prejudice against Ibori.

“He has been cleared of all charges in Nigeria!” one shouted, “It is a conspiracy by the corrupt British government!”

Another, looking shocked and depressed said, “This has come about because of 100% biased journalism.

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