By Our Reporters
The Oghara Development Union, (ODU) Lagos Branch, has called on the Federal Government to insist on the return of every single penny, forfeited by Chief James Onanefe Ibori’s associates in the London trial, to Nigeria.
In a statement signed by Sunday Agbofodoh, ODU General Secretary, the union says it has followed the case diligently and knows that the sum Ibori’s associates forfeited was £6.2 million and not £4.2 million.
It said Nigeria should oppose United Kingdom’s hypocrisy and insists that the entire sum be returned to Nigeria, or UK would have been engaged in witch-hunting Ibori for profit, by withholding Two Million Pounds Sterling.
“Nigeria should also demand for the interest on the £6.2 million since 2012 because the money would not have sat idly in the bank without attracting interest.”
The position of Oghara Development Union is following revelations of the imminent return of the seized funds to Nigeria from the UK government.
UK To Return £4.2m Seized From Ibori, To Nigeria
The Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami broke the news that the United Kingdom was set to return £4.2m (N2.2bn) seized from convicted former Governor of Delta State, James Ibori, and his associates.
The Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, said this while delivering his speech on Tuesday at the signing ceremony of the Memorandum of Understanding between Nigeria and the government of the UK regarding the return and management of stolen assets recovered from Ibori and associates.
Malami, who is also the Minister of Justice, said he was confident that both the Nigerian and British governments remain committed to combating corruption and illicit financial flows and ensuring that looters do not find comfort or save haven their respective territories.
He said in consonance with existing framework in the management of previous recoveries, the Federal Executive Council had directed that the instant repatriated funds should be deployed towards the completion of some projects.
The projects include; the Second Niger Bridge, Abuja – Kano expressway and the Lagos – Ibadan expressway under the coordination of the Nigeria Social Investment Authority to ensure integrity of the process.
Ibori’s Kinsmen Insist on His Innocence
Meanwhile, the Oghara Development Union are insisting on the innocence of James Ibori.
“The Oghara Development Union stands squarely with Chief Ibori in maintaining his innocence, and so without conceding that Ibori was guilty as charged, and specifying that the forfeited houses were not bought with illicit funds, we nevertheless call on Nigeria to insist that the full worth of the three buildings seized through a court order, be repatriated to Nigeria.”
The ODU said that all assets linked to Ibori were purchased using funds lawfully and properly obtained and some were bought before Ibori became Governor.
“Ibori’s businesses and the monies that accrued to them were not hidden from the London and Nigerian “persecutors”. “
“The London Police filed in court a paper which showed that one of Ibori’s companies, Mer Engineering, was earning over $7 million annually.”
“The forfeited London house linked to the First Lady of Delta state when Ibori was Governor, the Hampstead property, is owned by a family trust.”
“The property was purchased by the company, MER Engineering, which shareholding was held by his family trust. MER had obtained facility loan from NNB, a Nigerian bank.”
“The value of this property at the time of its purchase was £2.1 million, which was covered by the NNB facility of well over £3 million meant for working capital and financing of assets.”
“The second property belonged to Miss Udoamaka Okoronkwo, and was purchased for £249, 000 through mortgage.”
“Miss Udoamaka is a successful business woman as can be seen from the facility letter dated 19 December 2005 from a bank in favour of her company, Sagicon Nig, Ltd for N121 million (£1.5 million).”
“The third property, very modest, belonged to Ibori’s sister, a U.K resident, which she purchased for £140, 000. Her husband is a former Federal Permanent Secretary.”
The ODU said: “As a court ordered that the buildings be forfeited, however unjustly, all the monies realized must return to Nigeria.”
“It is on record that Ibori was a successful businessman before he became a Governor in May 1999, involved in oil logistics (Upstream) and trading (Downstream).”
“One of his companies, MER Engineering (Nig Ltd), was established in 1992, seven years before he became Governor. He was publisher of a national newspaper called “Diet”, now called “Daily Independent”.
“Also Ibori had a consultancy job with the Federal Government, with a tripartite agreement between him, the FG and the law firm Washington Christian of USA from which he earned between US$ 3 million to US$ 5 million annually, after successfully reaching the specified goals.”
“His bank statements with the Bank of Austria, the Citibank, Barclays Bank and the Meryl Lynch for those years will also show that he had substantial wealth of his own before he held public office for the first time in May 1999.”
“For instance, on March 11, 1998, his Bank of Austria account contained $557,100.00. His Citibank account contained even more; over $1.5 million dollars in 1998.”
“In fact, the Nigerian and UK persecutors (instead of prosecutors) knew that Ibori was already a Citibank Gold and Private Bank Member and a Gold Card member of the British Airways before he became Governor.”
“But they chose the rags to riches publicity stunt to justify their persecution of Ibori for political reasons.”
“It is well-known that before Ibori became Governor, he self-funded his entire political campaigns – with all the party candidates in 1999.”
“This should put to rest the lies that Ibori was not wealthy before he became Governor of Delta state.” The statement read.
Recall, Ibori, who ruled Delta State from 1999 to 2007, was convicted by a UK court in 2012 and was sentenced to 13 years in jail after admitting fraud of nearly £50m (N26.3bn), even though prosecutors say the actual amount stolen was about £250m (N131.7bn).
The former governor of Delta state pleaded guilty to 10 offenses relating to conspiracy to launder funds from the state, substantive counts of money laundering and one count of obtaining money transfer by deception and fraud.
He was released in 2016 after serving a fraction of his term.
Chief James Ibori is from Oghara town in the Ethiope West Local Government Area of Delta State.
(SOURCES: The Punch, Niger Delta Today)