June 2, 2010 / 10:47 AM / 10 years ago

UK convicts two women over £14 million stolen in Nigeria

LONDON (Reuters) - A British court has convicted two Nigerian woman of laundering 14 million pounds on behalf of a powerful politician who is wanted in both London and Abuja over allegations of corruption.

The case complicates the affairs of James Ibori, a former governor of oil-producing Delta State who remains influential in Nigeria. He was arrested last month in Dubai on an Interpol warrant, according to Nigerian anti-corruption police.

His sister, Christine Ibori-Ibie, and an associate, Udoamaka Onuigbo, were each convicted by a jury on three counts of money-laundering at Southwark Crown Court in London Tuesday, a court official said Wednesday.

The indictment named Ibori as the source and beneficiary of the cash.

“The defendants laundered more than 14 million pounds for James Ibori ... They were deeply involved in his life and financial dealings,” said David Williams, reviewing lawyer for the British Crown Prosecution Service’s central fraud group.

“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,” he said in a statement.

The offences took place from 1999 to 2007, the period when Ibori was governor of Delta, one of three major oil-producing states in the impoverished Niger Delta in southern Nigeria.

The jury also found Ibori-Ibie guilty of five charges of obtaining or attempting to obtain property transfers by deceit.

The indictment said she had dishonestly obtained mortgages to buy properties in and around London, presenting herself on different occasions as an oil and gas executive, import-export agent, interior decorator and children’s wear merchant.

A third defendant was acquitted of all charges against her.

IBORI’S WIFE WILL FACE TRIAL TOO

His sister’s conviction comes at a sensitive time for Ibori, a member of the Elders’ Committee of Nigeria’s ruling party.

Authorities in Dubai said on May 13 that Ibori had been released from custody, but his passport had been seized. Police said they were expecting his case file to be sent from London.

The Crown Prosecution Service said it would “continue to pursue those involved in Mr Ibori’s criminal conduct,” starting with another trial of three of his associates scheduled to begin on June 14. One of the defendants in that trial will be Theresa Ibori, the politician’s wife.

A successful prosecution of Ibori himself, at home or abroad, would be seen as a huge victory in the fight against corruption by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan. Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, is also one of its most corrupt.

A British court froze $35 million (23 million pounds) of Ibori’s assets in August 2007 on suspicion they were the proceeds of corruption.

Nigeria’s anti-corruption police tried to arrest Ibori last month, before his Dubai trip, to question him over allegations that 44 billion naira (197 million pounds) was looted from Delta State government coffers during his time in office.

But a violent crowd prevented police from arresting him in his hometown in southern Nigeria.

Editing by Giles Elgood

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