April 21, 2010 / 4:28 PM / 8 years ago

Mob prevents Nigeria police arresting ex-governor

* Mob prevents former state governor's arrest

* Ibori wanted over money-laundering

(Adds Ibori denial)

By Nick Tattersall

LAGOS, April 21 (Reuters) - A violent mob prevented police in Nigeria from arresting former Delta state governor James Ibori, a political powerbroker wanted in connection with money-laundering allegations, police said on Wednesday.

Senior officers including a deputy inspector general and the Delta state police commissioner went to apprehend Ibori on Tuesday but were ambushed and attacked as they entered Oghara, his hometown in southern Nigeria's oil heartland, police spokesman Emmanuel Ojukwu said.

"They went to his place and a mob attacked them and damaged some vehicles. The police retreated," Ojukwu said.

Local newspaper reports said the mob were armed and had exchanged fire with police but Ojukwu could not confirm this.

"I am not aware of any gunfire but I know they were a violent mob ... They attempted to prevent police from having access to him to have him arrested," he said.

Ibori, one of Nigeria's most influential and controversial politicians, is a member of the Elders' Committee of the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) and was instrumental in the rise to power in 2007 of President Umaru Yar'Adua.

Yar'Adua returned in February from three months in a Saudi clinic where he was being treated for a heart condition, but remains too sick to govern. Acting President Goodluck Jonathan has said fighting corruption is one of his top priorities.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Nigeria's anti-corruption police, said last week it wanted to question Ibori over allegations that 44 billion naira ($290 million) was looted from Delta state government coffers while he was governor. [ID:nLDE63C1WN]

Ojukwu said a court order for Ibori's arrest had been served on the police at the start of the week and vowed to use "all legal means" to apprehend him.

EFCC chairwoman Farida Waziri also said armed youths had prevented her agents and police from reaching Ibori and warned him he was not above the law.

But Ibori denied there had been any clash.

"No militants or any group at all engaged security agents in any fight," he said in a statement.



CORRUPTION CHARGES

Ibori has maintained the charges against him are born out of political rivalry at the heart of the PDP. [ID:nTAT558397]

His spokesman, Tony Eluemunor, said the planned arrest of the former state governor and the removal of his police guards on Tuesday were in breach of a previous court ruling.

"EFCC agents have been harassing people in Ibori's houses in Lagos, Abuja and Oghara in total disregard of that court order," Eluemunor said.

The EFCC charged Ibori in 2007 with looting more than $85 million during his eight-year tenure as governor of Delta, one of three main oil-producing states in the southern Niger Delta, but a court dismissed the charges in December.

The EFCC has said it will appeal.

Several of Ibori's associates are also facing money laundering charges in the United Kingdom, where a court froze $35 million worth of his assets in August 2007 on suspicion they were the proceeds of corruption.

Ibori is one of several former state governors to have been charged by the EFCC in cases which were seen as a litmus test of Yar'Adua's commitment to fighting corruption. But they made little progress under his administration.

Nigeria's 36 state governors have discretionary powers over millions of dollars of public funds and critics say they sometimes behaved like feudal monarchs, doling out cash as perks to political supporters and persecuting opponents. (For more Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: af.reuters.com/ ) (Editing by Giles Elgood)




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