LONDON (Reuters) – A British prosecutor launched a fresh attempt on Thursday to confiscate tens of millions of pounds stolen from an oil-producing state in Nigeria by its former governor, who was convicted of laundering his loot in Britain.
James Ibori, who was governor of Delta State from 1999 to 2007, pleaded guilty at London’s Southwark Crown Court in 2012 to 10 counts of fraud and money-laundering. He received a 13-year jail sentence.
The case was a rare example of a prominent Nigerian politician being punished for his part in the endemic corruption that has blighted Africa’s most populous country for decades. Since then, several other Nigerian former state governors have been convicted in their own country.
Having served half of his sentence in pre- and post-trial detention, Ibori was released from jail in December 2016 and is now back in Nigeria.
In 2013, a first attempt was made in Britain to confiscate his assets, but it was aborted after three weeks of hearings because of unresolved legal disputes.
Then the confiscation process was stalled for several years while Ibori and several of his associates, who had been convicted for their roles in laundering his money, appealed unsuccessfully against their convictions.
Restarting the process at Southwark on Thursday, prosecution counsel Jonathan Kinnear began listing assets that Britain seeks to confiscate from Ibori and return to Nigerian public funds.
The total value of the known proceeds of his crimes came to 117 million pounds ($153 million), he said. However, only a portion of that sum is likely to be recoverable.
During his time in office, Ibori, 57, amassed a portfolio of luxury properties in Nigeria, London, Washington, Houston and Johannesburg. He traveled all over the world, staying in the most expensive hotels and spending lavishly in luxury stores.
His lifestyle during those years was a far cry from his modest beginnings in life. As a young man, he had worked as a shop assistant at a branch of the home improvements chain Wickes in London, where he was caught trying to steal from the store and was convicted of theft.
Britain’s National Crime Agency estimates that around 1 billion pounds in dirty money moves into or through the United Kingdom every year. Ibori is one of the only ultimate beneficiaries of such practices to have been convicted.
The case is expected to last around four weeks.
(Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; editing by Stephen Addison)