By Tony Eluemunor
Barely three days after my story entitled “Exposed: How the UK Conspired to convict Ibori, Gohil, others - Govt’s Role”, appeared on 28 January 2017, the BBC on Wednesday 1st February 2017 confirmed one of the most damning disclosures it contained.
My expose showed how the British Government, acting through the DfID, had been in contention with Chief James Onanefe Ibori over the control of V-Mobile shares. I gave this back grounding: “At the centre of this conspiracy is the British government’s aid agency – the Department for International Development (DfID). To the world, it provides British monetary support for humanitarian aid and projects in impoverished counties. Yet, as its role in the Ibori case shows, its agenda is however political. In the Ibori case/s, the British government used these aid funds as a political tool against Ibori and to support its political agenda and undermine Nigerian sovereignty”.
Then I dropped the bombshell: “To begin at the beginning; It will be recalled that since 2005, DFID funded the entirety of the Ibori, Gohil and linked prosecutions; with £16 million going to “The Proceeds of Corruption Unit.”
On Wednesday, Mr. Mark Easton, BBC’s Home editor, published “James Ibori: Nigerian ex-governor challenges UK conviction” He wrote: “In 2005 the Department for International Development funded a special police unit inside Scotland Yard to go after corrupt African politicians.
Its prime target was Ibori. Its aim: to get him into a British court and convict him for corruption. The UK government spent years and millions getting Ibori out of Nigeria and into a British court in one of the most expensive and complex police investigations undertaken”.
And showing that the hunters have become the hunted as the Ibori case has turned against the Police, the BBC report added: “Last year, after repeatedly telling judges there was no evidence of police corruption, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) admitted they had found substantial material that supported the allegations.
"There exists intelligence that supports the assertion that [a police officer] received payment in return for information in respect of the Ibori case," the CPS admitted.
The officer in question has always denied taking bribes and internal police investigations have previously exonerated him. Details of how Scotland Yard tapped phones and conducted covert surveillance on a number of officers in the unit investigating Ibori emerged for the first time”
Unfortunately for DfID, it did little to cover its tracks. Once Ibori was arraigned, it never bothered to arraign any other politically exposed person. Also, the claim that the special Police Unit it funded lavishly with £16 million was for African-wide operation was a ruse; it has not cast an eye at any other country apart from Nigeria or at any other person.
Yet, the BBC report repeated the lies the media had heaped on Ibori owing to media manipulation, calculated disinformation and misinformation. Mr. Easton’s report claimed: “Ibori was believed to have laundered large sums in the UK, just part of hundreds of millions of dollars it was claimed he had embezzled from the Nigerian people.
On a state salary of just £4,000 a year he had bought a fleet of luxury cars and expensive properties. He was also looking to buy a private jet”.
This nonsense that a governor’s salary was Ibori’s only source of income from 1999 to 2007 has been at the heart of the Ibori London and Asaba trials. And that has been the most crucial media manipulation and court-misleading both the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) and the British Police and Prosecution did against Ibori.
The British Police and Prosecution both knew that Ibori had other sources of income, such as an oil service company called MER Engineering but chose to mislead both the court and the public. Page 14 of the 44-page charges filed by the London Metropolitan Police, against Ibori in court, item 81, on MER Engineering states: “MER 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 airplane that Mr. Ibori was in the process of buying when his monies were restrained by the UK courts”.
Yet, weeks before Ibori was sentenced, EFCC arrested and questioned one Dr. Babalakin on the charge that he helped Ibori launder money, using the account of Babalakin’s company. EFCC said Ibori never tried to buy a Challenger jet but was only helped to launder money by pretending he was buying a jet. I replied that the EFCC was lying because it had known for years that Ibori actually invested some money in a registered air-charter company for a jet that would be used commercially, but the world has been deceived that Ibori had bought, or was in the process of buying, a private jet. And didn’t Prosecution state in court that Ibori had invested only $4million on that aircraft – money from MER Engineering?
I wrote then: “Adding the $4 million for the jet to the $6 million for the properties, sums that came from MER Engineering, brings the entire sum in contention in the UK 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 Pounds that were bandied about. And the monies came from MER Engineering accounts. Also, I don’t want to go into the amount of the travel and overnight allowances that Ibori was paid during his eight-year tenure as Governor”.
Now, see court-misleading at work as I had pointed out before!. On item 175 of the same court charges against Ibori: “By the time he was into his second term of office as Governor of Delta State, James Ibori had defrauded Delta State of such large sums of money that he was planning to buy himself a private jet aeroplane costing $20 million.” Is this not the same plane for which Mr. Babalakin was arrested, and EFCC said he was laundering money for Ibori in the guise of buying a plane? Item 183: “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 life style, Ibori called himself “HIS EXCELLENCY”, a title not recognized by the constitution”.
To get to the source of this commotion: remember that former EFCC chairman, Nuhu Ribadu accused some oil majors of helping Ibori launder money over the same MER Engineering contracts, claiming that MER Engineering had no contracts at all with those oil companies. He was simply preparing the grounds to make this deliberate falsehood stick. And such nonsense even found its way into the Financial Times of London of November 16, 2007 story, “Probe into Chevron and Shell payments” written by Michael Peel and Dino Mahtani. It stated that “Anti-corruption investigators are probing payments by ChevronTexaco and Royal Dutch Shell to a company owned by a powerful Nigerian politician they suspect has laundered tens of millions of dollars in British banks, property and cars.
“James Ibori, who was governor of Delta State until last May, is being investigated by British and Nigerian authorities over sums he is alleged to have accumulated during his years in office.
“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, houses in London and Dorset, and a €406,000 ($595,460) armour-plated Mercedes-Benz from a Mayfair dealership.
“The document says police are examining £2.3m ($4.7m) of payments made over the past three years by ChevronTexaco and the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation into a dollar-denominated Barclays account in London held on behalf of MER Engineering, a company owned by Mr Ibori.
“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”.
So the Police knew as far back as 2007 that Ibori earned money legitimately apart from his salary as Governor. Yet, even the BBC towed reported their lies ten whole years later.
That is the source of the commotion. Ribadu and the British Police never wanted anybody to know that Ibori had other sources of legitimate income. And this nonsense continued even after the FT wrote this “Chevron confirmed it had hired two houseboats from MER, but declined to give more details. It said it believed it had complied with anti-corruption laws. Shell said MER was on its register of approved contractors. It declined to elaborate on the amount and type of work done by MER.NNPC said it never paid bribes”. That was written in 2007.
So what was the conclusion of Nuhu Ribadu’s investigation? On October 19, 2007, Sahara Reporters wrote: “Documents available to Saharareporters 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”. Total hogwash! So, where is the jet parked today?
No wonder over Ibori’s captivating understatement: "I have been unfairly treated, that's all I can say, Mr Ibori told the BBC, confirming that he plans to appeal against his conviction for money laundering.
"Yes, I am, of course. I have made that decision personally and I have instructed my solicitors."
What lawyers had thought impossible became possible in the Ibori case. Tuesday, 02 February 2010 Daniel Elombah of elombah.com, a lawyer, analyzed the Ibori London case and concluded: “Without original evidence, without the predicate crime, and relying on inference alone, the battle to secure the conviction of Ibori at all cost seems a lost cause”. Well, he spoke too soon; without adducing any evidence whatsoever of any monies lost by Delta state, and proving same beyond every reasonable doubt, the London prosecutors got judgment against Ibori when a Judge agreed the case should be decided on inference and inference alone and so no burden of proof weighed down on the prosecution at all, no matter how wild their claims could be. But Justice Marcel Awokulehin of the Federal High Court Asaba, rested his judgment on the prosecution’s failure to establish of prima facie evidence of guilt against Ibori. And ignorant Nigerians have been condemning that judgment without knowing the planks on which it rested; proof beyond all reasonable doubt as against inference alone – relied on by the London court.
( Eluemunor is Ibori’s Media Assistant)