Thursday, June 3, 2010

Nigerians face jail for laundering role

ByMichael Peel and Tom Burgis

The sister and a friend of the former governor of an oil-rich Nigerian state face imprisonment for helping him launder millions of pounds of stolen state assets in the UK.

Christine Ibori-Ibie, sibling of James Ibori, and Udoamaka Onuigbo were convicted at Southwark Crown Court in a trial that ended on Wednesday after a pioneering five-year inquiry involving close co-operation between British and Nigerian investigators.

The case, the first in a series linked to Mr Ibori, is the second successful prosecution brought by a Scotland Yard unit set up in response to criticisms of Britain’s failure to stop corrupt foreign officials using its financial system to salt away stolen money.

David Williams, reviewing lawyer for the Crown Prosecution Service’s central fraud group, said the latest prosecution was part of an effort to ensure London would “not be used as a global centre for money laundering”.

He said: “This was not a victimless crime. The theft of this money meant Nigerian citizens were effectively robbed of the services they were rightly entitled to expect and their lives left poorer as a consequence.”

Ms Ibori-Ibie was convicted on eight counts of money laundering and deception, while Ms Onuigbo was found guilty of three money laundering charges. The jury acquitted Adebimpe Pogoson, allegedly Mr Ibori’s personal assistant.

The prosecution alleged Ms Ibori-Ibie and Ms Onuigbo handled more than £14m on behalf of Mr Ibori between 1999 and 2006, during which his Delta state at times enjoyed an oil income of tens of millions of dollars a month as the world crude price reached record highs.

A representative of Mr Ibori claimed this week that the former governor and his family were victims of “political persecution”.

The case is the highest-profile yet concluded by the Scotland Yard unit, which was set up in late 2006 after Britain was accused of hypocrisy in attacking corruption in Africa and elsewhere while allowing dishonest officials to hide their money in London.

British investigators are trying to extradite Mr Ibori from Dubai, after being frustrated in two earlier cases in which Nigerian governors charged with money laundering in London skipped bail and fled home.

Mr Ibori’s case has become a symbol of the anti-graft fight in Nigeria, an oil-rich country consistently ranked among the world’s most corrupt.
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