By ADEMOLA ADEGBAMIGBE, The News 22/11/07
Nov 23, 2007 - 11:51:52 AM
As Reverend God-do-well Avwomakpa, the Delta State Chairman of Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, reads this story, he is bound to experience some psychological trauma. This is because, as he would find out, his action will go down in history with the same infamy as some European chaplains who, apart from building places of worship at slave camps, accompanied and blessed ships that sailed to Africa, carrying human cargo to the United States and the West Indies, from where they brought molasses in their triangular trips back to Europe.
Avwomakpa, on 1 October 2007, presided over the thanksgiving service held at Government House, Asaba, the Delta State capital. It was in commemoration of the “victory” of former Governor James Ibori in his legal tango with a United Kingdom court over the former governor’s seized, illegally acquired assets. The subject of this religious service had, for eight years, turned Delta into one huge ship, the hull of which was filled with his subjects, living under slavish conditions, even as he appropriated their common wealth through a panoply of tricks and multifarious proxies.
The service was attended by Ibori’s first cousin and successor, Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan; Mr. Olisa Imegwu, Speaker of the state House of Assembly; Ifeanyi Okowa, Secretary to the State Government, SSG; Professor G.G. Darah; Chief Ighoyota Amori; Chief Paulinus Akpeki and the Delta State Executive Council members.
At the occasion, Uduaghan said with eclat that Ibori was a wealthy man before he became governor of the state, adding that his 8-year tenure actually stalled his business interests. Ibori’s accusers, according to his successor, were only out to cause confusion in his political camp, which he had nurtured over the years. The Governor maintained that Ibori’s victory at the London court was not only for him but the entire people of Delta State.
A Southwark, London Crown court had earlier ordered that Ibori’s seized assets be immediately released. In a suit filed by Crime Prosecution Service, London, on 2 August 2007, the same court ordered the prevention of Ibori, Erin Aviation and others from having access to their assets in that country.
The benediction by Avwomakpa at Government House notwithstanding, Ibori’s victory ship hit an iceberg on 2 November. That day, the Federal High Court in Benin set aside the suit filed against the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and the Federal Government by the Delta State government. The case was initiated to prevent the Commission, its Executive Chairman, Nuhu Ribadu and the Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Mike Aondoakaa from investigating the state’s finances, confiscating its accounts and arresting and investigating present and past officials of the state, especially Ibori.
Justice Gloria Okeke, the presiding judge, ruled that the EFCC Act gave the Commission wide powers. Thus, the court could not prevent it from investigating economic and financial crimes. By extension, the ruling meant the nullification of the interim order issued by the same court on 9 October, stopping EFCC from probing, arresting and detaining Ibori and other officials, past and present.
Moreover, the interim order was as a result of EFCC’s request that the Delta government supply it with information on documents relating to the state’s security votes, all contracts above N50 million, loans and contracts through irrevocable standing order or payments.
With this development, the EFCC has a load of allegations against Ibori for which it has vowed to dock the former governor.
Details of Ibori’s real estate acquisition could make the Egyptian Pharaohs turn in their tombs. Above all, the strategies the former governor adopted in siphoning the money would provide invaluable material for a Ph.D dissertation on illegitimate wealth acquisition. Indeed, Ibori is a record breaker.
What EFCC has against Ibori, after thorough investigation, are legion. First, Ibori, like a mafia boss, liked using a honeycomb of fronts in the form of blood relations, his officials and their companies, to milk his state. The Commission found out that Onovin Nigeria Limited, owned by Vincent Uduaghan, Governor Uduaghan’s younger brother, wired large sums of money to the account of Ibori’s sister, Christine Ibie, at HSBC London.
Onovin, the EFCC found out, was awarded a contract in December 2004 for laying of tartan tracks at Oghara Stadium. Ibori hails from Oghara, a town he has extensively transformed from a rustic settlement to a city well-appointed. The tartan track project gulped N142.9 million. Rather than execute the project directly, however, Onovin secured the services of BSW Postfach 1180, Deutscheland, a Germany-based firm.
Ribadu’s men stumbled on a strange coincidence at the period when Onovin wired 284,000 euros to the German company for the job. An equivalent of N77.8 million from the contract sum was transferred to the account of Ibori’s sister at HSBC. As a conduit pipe, Onovin proved that it was not made of plastic but galvanised materials. Between 2002 and 2007, the company siphoned a total of N350 million, which came in lodgements of N5 million and N7 million Delta State Government cheques.
When EFCC asked Vincent’s men what the lodgements were meant for, they claimed they were for payments for the supply of fuel to the Government House from Total Nigeria plc depot in Benin, Edo State. The Commission, however, revealed that Total, “which equally had the same contract for the supply of fuel to the Government House, denied having any dealings with Onovin Nig. Ltd...”
The Commission further stumbled on another conduit pipe, in person of one Udoamaka Okoronkwo, Ibori’s mistress.
A total of N140 million, through three Assurance Bank drafts, was discovered transferred into her HSBC, London account. Her accounts, especially Sagicon Nigeria Limited, Rivbbed Agro-Allied, Saagaris Properties and Global Little Drops at Oceanic and Zenith banks showed many deposits of Delta State government cheques in the region of N2 billion. Out of the amount, N1.3 billion made a dramatic exit between May and December 2006.
Ibori’s private secretary, Ede Ogoro and Delta State Chief Accountant, Charles Isiayei, were discovered by EFCC to have received over N400 million through their personal and companies’ accounts. The Commission revealed that it further discovered other cash lodgements running into billions of naira made by the duo in concert with some bank officials into the accounts of Koln Nigeria Limited, Silhouette Travels, Prime Chambers, MER Engineering Limited, Bainenox Limited between 2001 and 2007.
They were, as the Commission explained, “purely drawn from the security votes of Delta State under the permanent secretary, Government House, Asaba.”
Investigations by the anti-corruption agency further revealed that Prime Chambers, owned by Professor Utuama, the present Deputy Governor, who was the Commissioner for Justice during the Ibori administration, was one of the beneficiaries of billions of naira cash lodgements. It was further discovered that Bainenox Limited’s account in the United Bank for Africa was operated by Chiedu Ibie, also a director of MER Engineering and Koln Nigeria Limited, allegedly owned by Ibori.
As Ibori scratched his chin and salivated over what he stole, he needed to soar beyond his fellow Deltans, far from where their eyes could see. With this eagle mindset, he needed a $25 million aircraft. His men entered into a transaction with Wings Aviation Parabola International Corporation, a Mauritius-based company owned by one of Ibori’s Zambian sidekicks, and Copex Management Service. The latter, another Mauritius firm, was engaged in the negotiation and received payments on behalf of Evin Aviation, Pamaron Oil and Gas and others.
Apart from a sum of $1 million paid by Paramon Oil and Gas Limited from Fidelity Bank to Arlington Sharmas, the UK solicitors, EFCC further found out that the transaction was made on the order of Bi-Courtney Limited, through another company, Flodan. The two firms which allegedly moved money for Ibori, using another company, BIADOXE Limited as a disguise, were, as the anti-corruption agency revealed, owned by the same person.
When EFCC investigated the acquisition of the National Fertiliser Company of Nigeria, it uncovered more irregularities. An example was how O-secul Nigeria Limited, owned by Mike Orugbo, bid for and acquired NAFCON in 2005 for $152 million. During the bid process, EFCC revealed that “Orugbo sourced for and paid $2 million to the company’s liquidators with a New Nigeria Bank cheque for the sum of N280 million issued sometime in August 2005.”
Despite the non-existence of any banking relationship between O-secul and Oceanic Bank, the latter, according to the Commission, raised the remaining money on behalf of O-secul for the acquisition of NAFCON. Ribadu’s men wondered why the bank “felt comfortable in granting the large facility to the company.”
It was also discovered that Oceanic Bank received $46 million via a certificate of capital importation from Copex Management Service. It was the same company that wired money to the UK solicitors on behalf of Erin Aviation. In the new deal, it wired money on behalf of Notore Mauritius for the acquisition of 39 per cent of NAFCON, which was renamed Notore Chemicals Industries Nigeria Limited.
Although Notore Mauritius claimed to be a group of foreign investors mainly from EMP, a US-based firm, and Egypt Fertiliser Company, EFCC found out that the two were “brought into the investment by the same UK solicitors, Arlington Sharmas, which also participated in the Ibori aircraft transaction. It was the legal firm that also handled the purchase of Ibori’s property at 42 Great Ground, Shaftesbury, Dorset, U.K.
Another payment of N4.4 billion, as the anti-corruption agency found out, was received by Oceanic Bank from Brisbane Limited, through two Intercontinental Bank Manager cheques for acquisition of 13 per cent of the fertiliser company.
Henry Imasekha, owner of Berkeley Group of Companies, also owns Brisbane. When EFCC investigated the origin of the money paid to Brisbane, it found out that in 2001, Imasekha used Bromley Limited to “secure a loan of N2.2 billion from New Nigeria Bank without any collateral or evidence of previous banking relationship with the bank and purchased 10 per cent of Econet Nigeria Limited (now Celtel).”
A few weeks later, however, Delta State Government purchased 5 per cent of Econet (Celtel) shares from Bromley Limited for N2.5 billion via a Standard Trust Bank (now UBA) bank draft which he (Imasekha) used in settling the New Nigeria Bank facility. In 2006 when Celtel took over V-mobile, Bromley sold the remaining shares to Celtel and from the proceeds, it acquired 13 per cent of NAFCON.
Further probe of the Ibori government revealed that N5 billion share placements in Nigerian banks and companies from Delta State’s accounts in Oceanic and Zenith banks were diverted for the purchase of Afribank shares for Ibori. EFCC maintained that the fraudulent transactions were perpetrated through the use of 14 fake companies. Some of them were Double Dip Nigeria Limited, Arusha Nigeria Limited, Abajim Nigeria Limited, Lugba Nigeria Limited, Mombassa Nigeria Limited, Limpopo Nigeria Limited, Zaragoza Nigeria Limited and Sandton Nigeria Limited.
Fortunately for the Delta people, EFCC was able to stop the transaction and return the money to the state coffers.
Ibori also allegedly used his front, Imasekha, to divert funds to acquire Wilbros Nigeria Limited, a multinational oil servicing firm in Port Harcourt in 2006. Imasekha bought it for $155 million, using his new company, Ascort Offshore Nigeria Limited.
The Commission was also able to establish other massive fraud and theft of public funds against Ibori. He allegedly did this in collaboration with the state House of Assembly, “using supplementary budget as disguise,” EFCC maintained. The Commission revealed that supplementary appropriation was sent to the state legislature for approval of over N40 billion between 1999 and 2005. This, it revealed, was “accompanied with executive letters, all dated 2004, signed by Chief Ibori for requests. The proceeds of this massive fraud are currently being traced.” Worse still, EFCC found out that several billions of naira, meant as “security vote” for the Delta State Government from 1999 to 2007, were “diverted by Ibori and his collaborators.”
One of Ibori’s major proxies, his wife, Mrs. Theresa Nkoyo Ibori, was arrested at Heathrow Airport on 1 November 2007 when she wanted to board a Virgin Atlantic flight to Lagos. Her arrest, according to the Metropolitan Police, was in “connection with an on-going money-laundering enquiry.” Although she was released on bail, she has a date with the British police in January 2008. But the Delta State liaison officer in Lagos, Michael Ujiagbedion, lamented that after two years of investigation, which has produced no evidence against Chief Ibori, “the utterly embarrassed British authorities have now resorted to humiliating a law-abiding British citizen (Nkoyo Ibori)”.
Ujiagbedion maintained that it is noteworthly that Nkoyo Ibori who owns properties and has lived in London for decades has never had any brush with the law. “She was never declared wanted or had her movement restricted. Her home in London is known to the police who should have ordinarily invited her if a need arises for such invitation,” Ujiagbedion argued, declaring that the woman is innocent of any crime.
Essentially, EFCC affirmed that Ibori declared when he became governor that he owned only four properties, valued at N100 million, which he acquired between 1995 and 1999. He also claimed that he owned seven plots of land which he acquired between 1983 and 2000 and put their value at N5 million. However, all these have paled into insignificance, considering all the properties owned by the former governor in Nigeria, United Kingdom and United States.
Saharareporters, an internet investigative outfit, detailed the assets of Ibori all over the globe. In the UK, the former Delta governor owns the $2.3 million property on Number 7 Westover Hill, London. Its title number is MX 2078021. The UK land registry revealed that the building was registered to Haleway Properties Limited, registered in Gibralter by BC Centrum, a company based at 788 Finchley Road, London. Haleway, the investigators found out, is owned by Ibori and his wife.
Another property, worth $750,000, with title number NGL 699019, situated at 20 Abbey Road, London NW89BJ, is owned by the former Delta governor. After an initial payment of $157,000 in 1999, Ibori made another settlement of $90,000 on 12 April 2000 and $70,081 on 25 July 2000.
If Saharareporters thought it had unearthed Ibori’s stimking can of worms, it was mistaken. It would later stumble on some catacombs full of rattlesnakes. Ibori allegedly used another front company, Telaton Quays Limited, to acquire another real estate investment at 42 Great Ground, Shaftbury, Dorset SP78FF. Registered with title number DT 32 G978, the $298,995 property was negotiated by Mr. Bhadresh Gohil of Arlington Shamas Solicitors. James Ibori made the payment through Udoamaka Okoronkwo, his mistress, on 20 July 2005.
For her effort and for delivering a child for Ibori, the politician bought her the property at 71 Mayflower Lodge, Regent Park Road, London N33HX. Abbey National Building Society received the mortgage through an HSBC current account number 21228420.
The former Delta governor’s sister, Ibie Ibori, lives at 76 Woodhill Crescent, Kenton, Harrow, Middlesex HA3 OLZ, a $475,000 property which belongs to him.
In spite of his kleptomania, Ibori believes in the motivational talk that money should work for its owner. With regard to this, he and Theresa, his wife, own Boyd, a property company in London. It is managed by BC Centrum of 788 Finchley Road, London, the investigators revealed.
To enable him have a firm grip on the company, the former governor, on 23 March 2004, appointed his mistress, Udoamaka, to act on Boyd Properties Limited. She was, the investigators maintained, given authority “to sign documents relating to sales and purchases of assets by the company.” The company allegedly paid $388,077 to Peter Brown, solicitors, to acquire the property at 36 Hunter Lodge, Calton Gate, Maidavale, London W9 3TQ through an HSBC account number 91310801. Saharareporters maintained that Adebimpe Pogoson, who “was hired by Ibori under the name of Miss Bimpe Faloye in 1997 while he was the publisher of Diet Newspaper, is a player in Ibori’s real estate deals.”
When EFCC was tracking down Ibori’s immovable investments, Bimpe moved from her 58 Uphill Drive residence to Flat 39, Barons Court, owned by Ibie Ibori, the investigators added.
Ibori also has properties in Nigeria. He allegedly bought the 21 Idejo Street property, off Adeola Odeku, Victoria Island in the name of his sister, Ibie. There are also a twin-duplex at 21 Probyn Road, off Bourdillon, Ikoyi, which the former governor purchased from G Cappa, a construction company; the property at 18A Adeyemi Lawson Road, Macpherson Avenue, Ikoyi and the one at 10A, B&C Turnbill Road, Ikoyi, Lagos.
Adebimpe Pogoson, according to Saharareporters, issued a N20 million Assurance Bank cheque on 9 December 2003 to Diya Fatimilehin and Co for part-payment of Plot 5 Block 4 Layi Ajayi Bembe Street, off Turnbill Road, Ikoyi.
Ibori’s real estate conquest extended as far as the United States. He, according to Sahararareporters, invested through HFA Development Group, making use of Citibank account numbers 3200056255 and 266086554. The bank is based at 1600 Coral Way, Miami, Florida.
Primi LCC is another company that Ibori relied on for his money laundering. His conduit was the Bank of America through account number 003677025981. One Segun Fawora who lives in a $750,000 seaside mansion on Aventura Avenue, Miami, was (and still is) the coordinator of Ibori’s Florida estate.
The former Governor, the investigators unearthed, owns Bond Technologies which, on 8 December 2003, received a transfer of $74,000 from Ibori’s KOLN account number 109091012 at Gulf Bank in Nigeria.
To further authenticate Ibori’s loot, Paul Gardner, a financial investigator, accredited by the Director of Asset Recovery Agency, swore to an affidavit, a copy of which was provided by Saharareporters at Crown Court, Southwark, UK on 30 July 2007.
Gardner revealed a number of companies that have links with Ibori, describing Telethon Onaye Limited and Erin Aviation as “investment vehicles for Ibori”. The former governor is also the owner of Stenhope Investment Limited, Polynesia and the Julex Foundation, Panama. Although Ibori ceased being a director of MER Engineering company in 1999, Gardner said “funds from the company continued to be transferred to accounts owned and controlled by James Ibori”. The British financial investigator added that Ibori is the beneficial owner of Parabola International Corporation, Mauritius.
Gardner further exposed how Ibori spent 406,000 euros to buy a Mercedes Benz vehicle, VRM XC05 AAM. The payment was made by Stanhope Investment. “This vehicle was armour-plated and was subsequently transported to South Africa,” he asserted.
Keeping tab on these cross-continental investments, at a time when money launderers are haunted like rabbits, needs some subterfuge. And Ibori’s proxies have such in dump trucks. Tinuola Faloye, as revealed by Saharareports, sent an electronic mail to Bimpe Pogoson (nee Faloye) on 13 July 2005, detailing how some bank officials helped Ibori to destroy records of financial transactions.
Tinuola explained a delay she encountered because officials of Citizens Bank had been reluctant to reprint them for her “as this will require recalling the files we told them to get rid of back into the system.” She claimed to have held a meeting with Ibie Ibori, Davidson and David Edevbie, Delta State Commissioner for Finance and Ibori himself over the EFCC affair. She counselled: “There is no point trying to hide a connection between the companies, as these people (EFCC) have most of the information. Some people seem to be of the impression that we were simply too careless...” Tinuola was trying to explain why it was no longer possible to keep Ibori’s links with all these individual and corporate proxies secret any longer. Rather, she attributed their exposure to multiple areas of carelessness.
First, she revealed that there were some cash payments to some people: Banke, Koln, Alcac, Harefe, Emma Okafor and Bola. “Oga’s Econet (now Celtel) bills,” she lamented, “were paid with Koln cheques, establishing a link with Oga (Ibori).”
She complained further that payments were made from Charter House to Alcac which may entail the invitation of Alcac Platinum and Bay Projects, companies that were linked to Ibori. Tinuola added that if EFCC or international investigators looked for Koln and Harefe in NNB, it would lead to more accounts being called up.
Tinuola bemoaned the fact that Ibie and she were “signatories to all these accounts, [which] just complicates things”. She added that it was fruitless trying to “sort out,” as Charter House from Abuja “as they (EFCC) have the incorporation documents.”
Tinuola was unhappy that in their foolishness, Ibori’s fronts did not pay cash for all transactions, but cheques which might require that many accounts be called up. She mentioned some companies like Silhouette and Paulina which might be traced to Ibori through the process.
Tinuola, however, assured Bimpe Pogoson that there was still some hope. In her words: “I was in NNB for a few hours yesterday and I went back there today. Davidson and Chinedu think there is no point but were able to get some things deleted from the statements and I will continue trying.” She assured Pogoson that she would soon meet Ibori with bank statements of Harefe, Alcac, Koln, Charter House and Bay Projects and would report back on what transpired.
Alcac, as the investigators revealed, is a company registered in Nigeria (RC 380602) which claimed to manufacture exercise books. Harefe, on the other hand, is Ibori’s printing press.
Is it possible for Ibori’s men to delete all bank transactions involving him? Absolutely not, his critics argued.
In its 23 February edition, Insider, a weekly magazine, revealed how Ibori used an account (PB1001) with a new generation bank to defraud his state. The account was found to be in deficit of N1billion, but it was discovered to be a smokescreen. The bank actually, according to the report, “permitted these withdrawals as up-front commission payments to Ibori in return for lodging a portion of the statutory allocation of Delta State from the Federation Account.”
Here is how. Whenever the monthly N5 billion allocation of Delta was released by the Central Bank of Nigeria, it was deposited at another first generation bank where, in line with the former governor’s instruction, N2.5 billion would be transferred to the special account PB1001. Not only that, Ibori was alleged to be in the habit of fixing the transfer for three months, the interest proceeds of which he used to offset his usual N1 billion overdraft at his special bank.
Beyond trying to delete bank transactions, Ibori has been adopting a lot of stratagems to evade justice. For instance, when the Southwark Crown court froze Ibori’s over $25 million assets in the UK on 2 August 2007, the former Delta governor used his influence with the President Yar’Adua government to get off the hook.
Swiftly, the Attorney-General of the Federation, Chief Michael Kaase Aondoakaa, who seems to enjoy stirring controversy, wrote a letter, reference number IFT/JAT/316533, on 4 August, claiming that there was no record that Ibori “has been charged to any court of law in Nigeria in respect of any offence relating to money laundering or any offences in connection with his acts and activities whilst in office as governor of Delta State between 29 May 1999 and 29 May 2007.”
Aondoakaa’s gesture attracted flak from the critical section of the Nigerian society. According to Afenifere, the Yoruba socio-cultural group, the Attorney-General’s letter must be investigated. The Conference of Nigerian Political Parties, CNPP, considered it a hidden agenda by President Yar’Adua to “cover up the monumental graft which is the metaphor of the past administration.”
But Aondoakaa defended himself that he wrote a letter, replying to a request by Ibori’s counsel, Lam Timlin and Julie Thrower of City Dispute Resolution Solicitors London.
Another strategy adopted by Ibori to evade justice was, according to critics, his huge investment in the election of President Yar’Adua. But the new Nigerian leader disappointed Ibori, who has since voted with his feet.
Source: Ocnus.net 2007