Former Governor James Onanefe Ibori of Delta State today entered a
guilty plea at his money laundering trial at a Southwark Crown Court in
London, the UK.
Mr. Ibori’s admission of guilt closed the chapter on arguably the
most dramatic judicial and political saga involving a Nigerian public
official in recent years. 
 Today’s development came as a stunning finale
to one of the most phenomenal money laundering and fraud cases spanning
seven years of an intensive manhunt. That drama ended as the once
powerful former governor, who loved to be flattered with his flamboyant
nickname of Odidigborigbo of Africa, avoided an exhaustive and revealing
trial by deciding to admit to his massive money laundering activities
during his two-term run as governor.
A source with the Crown Prosecution Services in the UK told
SaharaReporters that, with today’s plea, Mr. Ibori faces up to 10 years
in a UK prison at his sentencing. The former governor will be sentenced
after the completion of the trial of his accomplice and financial
advisor, Elias Preko, a Ghanaian national. Mr. Ibori, a graduate of the
University of Benin, today’s admission of guilt ends a

full circle of a
life of crime that began with petty theft in the early 1990s when he
lived as a poor immigrant in London and developed into a full-fledged,
big-time career in money laundering and other complex financial crimes
during his governorship of one of Nigeria’s richest oil-producing

Diplomatic sources as well as international crime investigators
believe that Mr. Ibori stole close to $3 billion from the coffers of
Delta State. Over the years, SaharaReporters chronicled Mr. Ibori’s life
in crime, beginning with our exposure of the details of the former
governor’s early small-time crimes in the early 1990s when he and his
then girlfriend and future wife, Theresa Nkoyo, began stealing building
materials at a Wikes shop in London where Theresa worked. A UK court
tried and fined him for burglary and possession of stolen credit cards.
Ibori returned to Nigeria during the regime of dreaded dictator Sani
Abacha. In Nigeria, Mr. Ibori took up his life of crime, spearheading
the looting a building construction site in Abuja. Then, after craftily
changing his date of birth, Mr. Ibori was recruited by Mr. Abacha’s
chief security officer, Al Mustapha, whose involvement in the regime’s
network of criminal activities recently earned him a death sentence for
the assassination of Kudirat Abiola, wife of then president-elect M.K.O.
Abiola. Security sources told SaharaReporters that Mr. Ibori became a
deadly member of Mr. Abacha’s extensive machinery of repression that
included killer squads that went after leading opponents of the regime.
Mr. Ibori is believed to have led the group of assassins that killed
Alfred Rewane, a prominent businessman and financier of pro-democracy
groups opposed to Mr. Abacha.
As Nigeria returned to some form of democracy in the post-Abacha era,
Mr. Ibori was able to parlay the monumental wealth he accumulated from
the dictator’s regime into remaking himself as a political star in the
corrupt conclave of Nigerian politics, pitching his tent with the most
corrupt of all the parties, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Successfully covering up his conviction for stealing building materials
in Abuja as well as his petty crime convictions in the UK, Mr. Ibori
sought and won the mandate of the PDP as the party’s governorship
candidate in 1999.
Once elected as governor of one of Nigeria’s richest states in the
oil-producing Niger Delta region, Mr. Ibori began looting the treasury
of the state with the aid of his wife, a mistress, his younger sister,
well-heeled lawyers in London, and his cousin, Emmanuel Uduaghan, who
was crowned gubernatorial successor before Ibori ran out of luck. By the
time Ibori was done with the treasury of Delta State, he had become one
of the richest Nigerians, owning an airline company, using criminal
schemes to buy over the national fertilizer company, acquiring mansions
in different parts of Nigeria as well as choice real estate in London,
the United Arab Emirate, and the U.S.
Also, by the end of his reign as governor, Mr. Ibori was so
politically powerful and financially rich that he almost singlehandedly
financed the presidential campaign of deceased Nigerian ruler Umaru
Yar’adua, helping to spearhead the rigging that swept the man into the
Nigerian presidency.
A grateful Yar’adua shielded Mr. Ibori from any serious prosecution
for corruption. On his part, Mr. Ibori had used massive cash gifts to
top members of Nigeria’s judiciary, including Supreme Court justices
Niki Tobi, Alfa Belgore and Aloysius Katsina-Alu, to cultivate an
extremely cozy relationship with critical players in the nation’s
judiciary. With many senior judges on his payroll, he found it easy to
manipulate the judiciary. When opposition opponents accused him of being
convicted for the theft of building materials, Mr. Ibori easily slipped
away. Despite glaring evidence that he was involved in business scams,
corruption and stealing, Nigerian judges, from the magistrate level all
the way to the Supreme Court, thwarted the course of justice and let
Ibori walk free. Several judges ruled that he was not the same James
Onanefe Ibori named in the conviction.
Famously known as the “Sheikh,” Mr. Ibori became the darling of
hustlers and a man that seemed larger than life, inspiring fear in many
of his critics in Delta State. Many politicians and Nigerians regarded
Ibori as possessing power over life and death. He had bankers at his
beck and call and he had his own newspaper. As governor, he was reputed
to have a killer squad to snuff life out of his opponents. He famously
summoned former Inspector General of Police Mike Okiro to his country
home. On one occasion, during his detention on money laundering charges,
former IG Okiro sent the only functioning police helicopter to ferry
him from Kaduna Prison to Abuja because he complained of headache.
A Nigerian police officer named Nuhu Ribadu, who served as chairman
of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), was to become
Ibori’s major nemesis. In 2005, Mr. Ribadu began coordinating a series
of local and international investigations against Mr. Ibori. The
investigation was tagged “Operation Tureen.” 
The investigators looked at several transactions undertaken by Mr.
Ibori using a web of sophisticated methods and schemes that involved
banks, bureaus de change, multinational corporations as well as a
U.S.-based equity firm to launder funds looted from Delta State. The
Proceeds of Crime Unit at the London Metropolitan Police played a
critical role in the extensive investigation which culminated in an
asset freeze order that targeted some $35 million traced to Mr. Ibori.
The asset freeze order revealed that Mr. Ibori was about to take
delivery of a Bombardier jet from Canada. The delivery had been delayed
only because Mr. Ibori demanded that an I-Pod jack be installed on each
seat on the plane.
The asset freeze order suffered a temporary setback when Mr. Ibori
deployed a team of high-powered lawyers in London to roll it back. Even
so, a determined team of UK police officers and lawyers from the Crown
Prosecution Services led by Sasha Walsh, would not relent. Instead, they
widened their dragnet to take down Mr. Ibori’s sister, Christine
Ibie-Ibori, his girlfriend, Udoamaka Okoronkwo (nee Onuigbo), his wife
Theresa Nkoyo-Ibori, and one of his London-based lawyers, Bhadresh Gohil
Despite the crumbling of his money laundering machinery in the UK,
Mr. Ibori’s was waxing politically stronger in Nigeria. In one
demonstration of his invincibility in Nigeria, he insisted that former
President Yar’adua remove Mr. Ribadu from chairmanship of the EFCC and
also dismantle the top leadership of the anti-corruption agency.
Subjected to constant humiliation after his removal from the EFCC, Mr.
Ribadu was ultimately hounded into exile. With the consent of an ailing
President Yar’adua, Mr. Ibori also installed Farida Waziri as head of
the EFCC. He also had the then attorney general of the federal, Michael
Aondoakaa, to do his bidding. SaharaReporters exposed the fact that Mr.
Aondoakaa wrote several letters to Mr. Ibori’s defense team in London
claiming that the Nigerian government had found no evidence of
corruption on the part of the former governor. Mr. Aondoakaa also sought
to prohibit U.K. prosecutors from using any evidence provided by Mr.
Ribadu’s EFCC in the prosecution of Mr. Ibori’s associates undergoing
money laundering trials in London.
In another sign of his untouchable status in Nigeria, Mr. Ibori
engineered to have his money laundering trial transferred to the Delta
State capital of Asaba in a hastily assembled, brand new federal high
court. The court sat in a house bought from one of the former governor’s
political associates. Mr. Ibori was allowed to choose Justice Marcel
Awokulehin, a notoriously corrupt judge, to preside over his charade of a
trial. He also chose his prosecutor, a man who in court made a habit of
agreeing with any motion that Mr. Ibori’s defense lawyers made. In an
outcome that SaharaReporters predicted, the 170 counts of money
laundering in Nigeria were made to collapse, with Justice Awokulehin,
who received a bribe of $5 million, proclaiming Mr. Ibori’s innocence.
With questions still cast over Mr. Ibori’s trial in Nigeria, his alma
mater, the University of Benin, hastily organized a founder’s day
lecture to project him as a hero. The former governor also made a round
of the Nigeria media to insist on his innocence and to deny that he ever
offered Mr. Ribadu a bribe of $15 million in order to stave off
As soon as Yar’adua died in 2010, the political calculation changed.
The tide turned against Mr. Ibori as then acting President Goodluck
Jonathan ramped up political pressure against Mr. Ibori who, as one of
the closest confidants of the late ruler, had often ridiculed Mr.
Jonathan and prevented him from becoming acting president even as it was
clear that Mr. Yar’adua was incapacitated in a Saudi hospital.
To thwart a feeble attempt made to re-arrest him, Mr. Ibori fled to
Dubai. However, his run was shortlived when an international dragnet by
the UK police caught up with him. UK authorities filed an extradition
request in Dubai to snag up the fugitive former governor, wanted in the
UK to answer to the use of financial institutions in that country to
engage in money laundering.
Mr. Ibori’s relentless fight in a Dubai court to return to Nigeria
instead failed. He was eventually flown to the UK in 2010 where he
remained in custody till today’s guilty plea. From his UK detention, Mr.
Ibori had coordinated and launched a deceptive media campaign. Mr.
Ibori’s associates funded some Nigerian-owned blogs that alleged, among
other things, that UK police investigators had accepted bribes from his
associates; that the prosecution’s case against him was weak; and even
that the prosecution was on the verge of abandoning their case.
A source close to Mr. Ibori told SaharaReporters that the former
governor’s well-funded propaganda collapsed last week when his well-paid
attorneys told him he had a bad case. Feeling utterly, Mr. Ibori came
to terms with the fact that he could not maneuver his way out of the
legal logjam as he was able to do in his fake Nigerian trial.
A UK-based lawyer told SaharaReporters that, in pleading guilty
today, Mr. Ibori hoped to avoid receiving the maximum sentence for his
crimes. Even so, the source suggested that the former governor should
expect a sentence in the range of 10-12 years.
But that could be only the beginning of his troubles as the London
Metropolitan police plan to go after his assets all over the world.

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