On Thursday, a state prosecutor urged a London court to seize over 100 million pounds ($129 million) from James Ibori, a Nigerian politician and former governor of Delta State. Ibori, who has been convicted of fraud and served several years in a British prison, faces the potential confiscation of these funds. SaharaReporters broke the news of Ibori’s transfer to the UK in 2011 after he was arrested from his Dubai home by the UAE security.
Ibori arrived in the UK via Heathrow airport after the London Metropolitan Police foiled his plot to evade his impending trial in the UK. Upon arrival he was taken to London police station and processed for his appearance in court. Ibori was subsequently slammed with 25 counts of money laundering and fraud. With its highly developed financial and legal services and lucrative property market, Britain is a global money-laundering hub, but it is rare for the foreign kleptocrats it attracts to be prosecuted and Ibori’s case remains an outlier.
After more than a decade of legal wrangling and court delays, attempts by prosecutors to confiscate funds considered to be the benefits of Ibori’s criminality now appear close to conclusion. Reuters reports that Judge David Tomlinson of Southwark Crown Court has made factual findings regarding the funds. At a hearing on Thursday, both sides made competing arguments about how the confiscation figure should be calculated, taking into account the judge’s findings. He is expected to finalise and formally issue his order on Friday or shortly afterwards.
According to the report, lead prosecution counsel Jonathan Kinnear told the court that the total amount that should be confiscated from Ibori was 101.5 million pounds, and that if he did not pay up he should be sentenced to between five and 10 years in prison. Having served half of his prison sentence in pre- and post-trial detention, as is common, Ibori returned to Nigeria in 2017 and did not attend Thursday’s hearing. He told Reuters by text message he planned to appeal against the confiscation order.
Ibori remains influential and well-connected in Nigerian politics. President Bola Tinubu, who was inaugurated in May, has hosted Ibori twice at the presidential villa, along with other former governors. Britain has pledged to return any money recovered from Ibori to Nigeria. 2021, it returned 4.2 million pounds that had been confiscated from Ibori’s ex-wife and his sister, who also served jail time for helping him launder money.
Governor of Delta State from 1999 to 2007, Ibori was in 2012 sentenced to 13 years in prison for money laundering by a court in the United Kingdom.
He fled Nigeria in April 2010 while answering to corruption charges, forcing the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to enlist the help of the Interpol that apprehended him in Dubai, United Arab Emirates and extradited him to the UK where a case of massive corruption and money laundering had built up against him as well.
He served only four years out of the 13-year sentence handed by the UK court and was released from jail in 2016. He is said to have stolen more than $78.5m of public funds and partly funded the election of Umaru Yar’Adua as President of Nigeria in 2007. Ibori’s influence in the Niger Delta and indeed Nigeria in general is said to still be strong as persons seeking elective offices consult him for support as a result of his political networks.