Ex-head of Nigerian state admits financial crime

Associated Press
Undated photo released by the London Metropolitan Police, showing the former governor of a Nigerian state James Ibori, who on Monday Feb. 27, 2012, admitted in court to charges of money-laundering, conspiring to defraud and obtaining a money transfer by fraud, officials said.  Ibori pleaded guilty at Southwark Crown Court in London to a series of charges linked to the theft of money from the Delta state and fraud involving state-owned shares in a mobile phone company.  James Whatmore of the Metropolitan Police Corruption Unit said "We will now be actively seeking the confiscation of all of his stolen assets so they can be repatriated for the benefit of the people of Delta state".(AP Photo / Metropolitan Police)
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Undated photo released by the London Metropolitan Police, showing the former governor of a Nigerian state …

LONDON (AP) — A former governor of Nigeria's oil-rich Delta state, accused of stealing $250 million from the public purse, pleaded guilty in a London court Monday to fraud and money-laundering.

James Ibori, 49, entered his plea at Southwark Crown Court . He is to be sentenced on April 16.

Ibori's guilty pleas capped an inquiry which began in association with Nigerian anti-corruption investigators in 2005. Ibori was immune from prosecution in Nigeria between 1999 and 2007 when he was serving as governor of Delta state, police said.

Paul Whatmore of the Metropolitan Police Proceeds of Corruption Unit said it is estimated that Ibori stole around $250 million from Delta state. British authorities claim Ibori funneled much of the stolen funds to banks in England.

"The scale can only be described as huge," Whatmore said. "Vast sums of money which were used to fund his lavish lifestyle."

Ibori used the money to buy houses in London and Johannesburg, a fleet of armored Land Rovers, and a $20 million private jet. He racked up credit card bills of $200,000 a month, police said.

Nigeria's anti-graft investigators, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, had arrested Ibori in 2007, and police in London got a court order to freeze U.K. assets of 35 million pounds ($55 million) which allegedly belonged to him.

In 2009, a court in Ibori's home town of Asaba dismissed 170 charges of corruption against him.

The case was reopened in 2010 by Nigerian investigators, but Ibori evaded arrested and fled to Dubai. He was detained there at the request of British police and extradited to London in 2011.

Ibori was charged in Britain with a string of offenses, including siphoning money from the Delta state government to line his own pockets.

Britain's Crown Prosecution Service said Ibori pleaded guilty to 10 charges, including one count of conspiracy to defraud and seven counts of money laundering.

"In pleading guilty, Ibori has admitted that he defrauded the Nigerian states of Delta and Akwa Ibom during his time as governor of Delta state and laundered the proceeds," said Sue Patten, head of the prosecution service's Central Fraud Group. "This is a significant prosecution of very serious charges for which Ibori will be sentenced in due course."

British prosecutors previously won convictions against Ibori's wife, Theresa; his sister, Christine Ibori-Ibie; his mistress, Udoamaka Oniugbo; his lawyer, Bhadresh Gohil; a financial agent, Daniel Benedict McCann; and corporate financier Lambertus De Boer.

Police said two computer hard drives seized from the lawyer's London office proved to be a major break in the case.

Ibori had previous convictions in London, police said.

He and his wife were charged in 1990 with stealing goods from a hardware store where Ibori worked as a low-paid cashier; he was fined 300 pounds. In 1991, he was fined 100 pounds after being convicted of handling a stolen credit card, police said.

Whatmore said police "will now be actively seeking the confiscation of all of his stolen assets so they can be repatriated for the benefit of the people of Delta state."

"It is always rewarding for anyone working on a proceeds of corruption case to know that the stolen funds they identify will eventually be returned to some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world."

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