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  • Urges FG To Insist On Return Of £6.2m By UK Authorities
  • * Delta Govt, CISLAC, Insist Loot Should Go To Delta

By Sharon Ngozi Nwabiani (Senior Correspondent, in Lagos) @ZikaSharon

Contrary to the claim by the British government that friends, family members, and associates of the former governor of Delta State, Chief James Onanefe Ibori, forfeited £4.2 million which her High Commissioner in Nigeria said would be returned to Nigeria soon, Ibori's kinsmen have faulted the UK authorities, saying that their son actually forfeited £6.2million and not £4.2million as claimed by Britain.

In a statement by Ibori's people, the Lagos Branch of Oghara Development Union (ODU), its Secretary-General, Sunday Agbofodoh, said the Union was constantly abreast with Ibori's case to know that what their son actually forfeited was £6.2million and not the £4.2million as touted by the British government. The Union, therefore, called on the Federal Government not to accept the £4.2million which the British High Commissioner in Nigeria, Ms. Catriona Laing, promised that her home government would return to Nigeria.

The Oghara people urged the Federal Government to insist that all monies so far forfeited by Chief Ibori’s associates during his trial in London, including all bank interest accrued to the funds, be fully returned to Nigeria.

It is noteworthy that the former Delta governor is an indigene of Oghara town, in the Ethiope West Local Government Area of Delta State.

The Oghara Development Union said they "stand 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 Union however accused Britain of hypocrisy, stating that by allegedly scheming to withhold £2million out of the said £6.2million forfeited, Britain, according to them, merely witch-hunted Ibori all along. The ODU also tried to debunk the impression already created that the forfeited funds were laundered money, claiming that most of all the assets associated with Ibori were legitimately acquired by the politician even before he was elected governor of Delta State in 1999.

The union stated that Ibori’s businesses and financial assets from his business investments were all known to both the Nigerian and UK authorities that prosecuted him. “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 a defunct Nigeria Bank known as New 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 (Okoronkwo) 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 Nigeria Limited 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.”

According to the Oghara Union, a "court ordered that the buildings be forfeited, however unjustly, all the monies realised 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.”

Meanwhile, as controversy rages over, whether or not, the said forfeited £4.2million should be given to the federal government of Nigeria by the U.K government, the Delta State government is already staking a claim to the funds.

Delta State Commissioner for Information, Ehiedu Aniagwu, said the money should immediately be handed over to the State, as, according to him, the funds belonged to Delta. He stated that the least the federal government could do was to take cost of litigation out of the entire money. Anything short of that, Aniagwu said, amounts to sheer wickedness. “Why should Delta State money be used in building Lagos-Ibadan Expressway or Abuja-Kano rail? Is the Federal Government saying it doesn’t know the origin of the money? The money belongs to Delta State. We would have understood if the Federal Government had said it wants to receive 20 per cent, but to take all the money is wrong", the Commissioner fumed.

While hailing the decision to repatriate the said forfeited funds to Nigeria, a foremost non-governmental rights organization, the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), is of the view that the money should be deployed to compensate victims of corruption in Delta State from where it said the money was taken. CISLAC stated that “By signing up to Global Forum on Asset Recovery (GFAR) as parts of efforts to fight corruption, the Federal Government committed to responsible asset return and citizens of Delta are clearly the victims here.”

However, NIGERIAN NEWSLEADER NEWSPAPERS learnt from privileged government sources in Delta that already, the Delta State government is currently under pressure from some of its prominent and influential citizens to drag the federal government to court if it does not hand over the forfeited £4.2million, as soon as it is given to Nigeria, including subsequent funds to be returned to Nigeria, to the Delta state government.

But a leading politician and an opposition party stalwart in the state who would rather prefer not to be mentioned "just to avoid wahala", however disagreed with the entitlement claim to the forfeited funds by the Delta State Government. He queried: "Why on earth would Delta State government be demanding to be given the money? Did our state government not reject the monies before when Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan was governor? The Delta state government, at the time, said no Delta money was missing, that all the money linked to Chief James Ibori during his trial in London did not belong to Delta? So, why are they asking for it now?"

However, when the contentious issue of ownership of the alleged looted funds came up sometime in 2007, the Delta State Government was reported to have declined to cooperate with the Investigating Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) when Ibori was on trial over the loot. By that refusal, it was reported that Delta state was permanently no longer entitled to any fund then amounting to £15 million. This means that the money has been forfeited to the federal government any time it was returned to the Nigerian authorities by Britain.

In the legal action initiated by the EFCC against the Delta State Government in respect of the actual ownership of the £15million which was alleged to been used to bribe the leadership of EFCC under Nuhu Ribadu, the trial judge, Justice Gabriel Kolawole, ruled that since it seemed obvious that the government of Delta was shielding Chief James Ibori, the recovered funds should then be deposited into the Federation Account rather than being given to the Delta State government.

It will be recalled that the former Delta State Governor, Chief James Onanefe Ibori, was arrested outside the shores of Nigeria sometime in 2010, and taken to the United Kingdom to face charges at the British Crown Court in London for money laundering, forgery and conspiracy to defraud. His wife, Nkoyo Ibori, his sister and some business associates and friends also were charged for same offenses. He was subsequently sentenced to 13 years in prison. Ibori was then released from the UK prison on December 9, 2016 after four years. He returned to Nigeria to the warm embrace of his people in Oghara, Delta state. NNL.

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