* Nigerian ex-governor in London court for sentencing
* Ibori has pleaded guilty to stealing millions
* Rare case of a Nigerian politician held to account
By Estelle Shirbon
LONDON, April 16 A British prosecutor on Monday
charted the extraordinary rise of James Ibori from a petty thief
in London to a powerful governor in Nigeria, describing a web of
bogus firms he used to buy mansions and luxury cars in Britain
with his stolen millions.
Ibori, who was governor of the oil-producing state of Delta
in southern Nigeria from 1999 to 2007, has pleaded guilty to 10
corruption charges, admitting he stole approximately 50 million
pounds ($79 million) from Delta state's coffers.
The case is being avidly followed in Nigeria, Africa's most
populous nation, where Ibori used his clout and wealth as
governor of Delta to position himself as a power-broker in
He is the most high-profile Nigerian politician to be
successfully prosecuted for corruption, a problem that has
blighted the country since independence from Britain in 1960.
"From the moment Ibori was elected, he set about enriching
himself at the expense of some of the poorest people in the
world," said prosecutor Sasha Wass at the start of Ibori's
two-day sentencing at Southwark Crown Court in London.
"His greed increased exponentially during his governorship,
as did his arrogance," she said, before launching into a
detailed account of how he acquired a Bentley, a Jaguar, a
Maybach 62 and a portfolio of six foreign properties including
mansions in England, the United States and South Africa.
Ibori sat in the dock behind a glass partition, flanked by a
police officer, while Wass spoke. It was a humiliation for a man
accustomed to being addressed as "Your Excellency" and used to
being courted by crowds of people seeking his patronage.
The main charges to which he pleaded guilty on Feb. 27 were
money-laundering and conspiracy to defraud, for which the
maximum penalties are 14 and 10 years in prison respectively.
Judge Anthony Pitts is expected to hand down Ibori's sentences
London's Metropolitan Police, which has been investigating
him since 2005, estimates he embezzled at least 150 million
pounds during his eight-year tenure.
An attempt by Nigeria's homegrown anti-corruption force to
prosecute Ibori after he stepped down was unsuccessful, but he
was arrested in 2010 in Dubai on a British warrant and
extradited to London a year later.
Ibori's criminal career started small, when he was caught in
1991 stealing from a till while working as a cashier at Wickes,
a home improvements store, in London. In 1992, he was convicted
again, this time for handling a stolen credit card.
Ibori then returned to Nigeria where he became involved in
politics. Wass said that in 1996, he fraudulently changed his
year of birth in his passport from 1962 to 1958 to make it
harder for anyone to uncover his UK criminal convictions. If
disclosed, they would have disqualified him from running for
state governor in 1999.
As a founding member of the People's Democratic Party (PDP),
which has ruled Nigeria since the 1999 transition from military
to civilian rule, Ibori swiftly established himself as a rich
and powerful figure in the new ruling elite.
Officially, his salary as governor was 4,000 pounds a year,
but within two years of taking office Ibori paid 2.2 million
pounds in cash for a house in upmarket Hampstead in north
London. Other properties purchased later included a country
mansion in Dorset, southwest England, close to Port Regis, the
private school where his three daughters were being educated.
The Jaguar and Bentley were kept at his Hampstead house,
while the Maybach 62 was shipped to his South African address.
In 2007, when British police froze some of Ibori's assets in
a London court, he was attempting to purchase a private
Bombardier Challenger jet worth $20 million for his private use.
"From starting off as a petty thief with his hand in the
till at Wickes, who could not afford his monthly mortgage
repayments, he ended up as a property tycoon who led the
lifestyle of royalty," said Wass.
In 2010, Ibori's wife, mistress, sister and lawyer were
convicted and sentenced to prison terms during two separate
trials in London for their role in helping him launder his
Ibori and his associates used a baffling array of shell
companies registered in places like Gibraltar or the Virgin
Islands to siphon money to and from bank accounts in Nigeria,
Britain, Switzerland, the United States and elsewhere.
One Barclays account held at a branch in Knightsbridge, a
posh area of London, was used to deposit wads of cash that over
time amounted to over one million pounds. Other international
banks named by Wass in her detailed account of Ibori's
transactions included HSBC, Citibank and Schroders.
"What is striking about this case is how seemingly easy it
was for Ibori to access the British financial system. The likes
of Barclays and HSBC were taking money from him and his
associates which raises serious questions about what checks they
were making," said Robert Palmer, of anti-corruption group
Global Witness, who was in court during Monday's proceedings.
Ibori's senior defense counsel, Nicholas Purnell, began
outlining what he said were mitigating factors for the court to
consider. He said Ibori had shown courage by pleading guilty and
had done some good things for Delta state when he was governor.
Purnell is due to complete his submission on Tuesday before