Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

How corrupt Nigerian politician was brought to justice in the UK

From Jim Boulden, CNN
May 9, 2012 -- Updated 1204 GMT (2004 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Former Governor James Ibori embezzled an estimated $250 million from the people of Delta State
  • He was caught by an investigative unit funded by the same body that delivers aid to Africa
  • Campaigners question the role of British banks in facilitating African corruption

London, England (CNN) -- The arrest of a Nigerian politician who deposited millions of dollars of stolen money in UK accounts has raised questions about the role of British banks in corruption.

As governor of the oil-rich Delta state in Nigeria, James Ibori's salary was only $6000 a year, yet he managed to afford luxury properties, fleets of Rolls Royces, a Bentley and a Maybach, first class travel, private boarding school fees and a private jet worth $20 million.

In April, accused of money laundering, Ibori pleaded guilty to stealing $80 million, although investigators believe he may have stolen three times as much. He was sentenced to 13 years.

Prior to entering politics, Ibori had lived in London, England with his wife Theresa. In 1990, the pair were convicted of stealing from a hardware store where Ibori worked as a cashier. The next year, he was convicted of handling a stolen credit card. By the end of the decade, having lied about his criminal record, Ibori was governor of Delta State, and was reelected for a four year term in 2003.

The Africans looking to make it in China

Although acquitted by a Delta State court in 2009, justice finally came for Ibori in a South London court, after a seven year investigation by the Proceeds of Corruption Unit of London's Metropolitan Police.

The unit, staffed by a dozen or so detectives, traces the flow of foreign politicians' money through London, and is funded by the UK government's Department for International Development, which also delivers aid to Africa.

Concealing criminal convictions in the UK, James Ibori rose to become governor of Delta State. Here, he receives gifts of fish, liquor and money from Ijaw villagers as he tours the western Niger Delta in 2003. Concealing criminal convictions in the UK, James Ibori rose to become governor of Delta State. Here, he receives gifts of fish, liquor and money from Ijaw villagers as he tours the western Niger Delta in 2003.
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
>
>>
Life of a crooked politician Life of a crooked politician

"We hope that, by tackling the likes of James Ibori, we're saying to those stealing from the state purse, you can't have your children at private school in London. You can't have a multimillion pound house in one of the most affluent areas of London. You can't drive around in top of the range vehicles. We won't let you move money around to buy multimillion pound jets," says unit head Detective Chief Inspector Jonathan Benton.

Ibori employed a range of methods, some straightforward, some devious. He inflated contracts, took kickbacks, and simply transferred cash out of state accounts. He was helped by his family, wife and mistress, as well as by London-based professionals, who set up shell companies, assisted in purchases and provided false due diligence.

London's link to African corruption

According to Robert Palmer of anti corruption NGO Global Witness, London holds a double attraction for corrupt politicians. "We are a major financial and legal center so there's a lot of expertise, and there's also a lot of assets that go through the British financial institution, so it's easier to disguise your assets." Palmer believes London also seems like a great place to spend "illicit loot".

"There's a prestige about being able to bring your assets and your wealth into the UK," he observes.

In March, the Financial Services Authority fined Coutts, a private arm of Royal Bank of Scotland, a record $14 million for failing to monitor three-quarters of its high-risk customers, known as Politically Exposed Persons. Although Coutts says it found no evidence of money laundering, and its processes are now robust, campaigners say London's banks are still playing a role in the problem of African corruption.

"I think we need to see more sanctions," says Chandu Krishnan of Transparency International. "And the greater the severity of penalties, the greater the deterrent effect. And that will ensure fewer institutions would commit these offenses."

Palmer has similar concerns. "According to the prosecutor, Ibori and his associates had accounts with Barclays, HSBC, Citibank. He had a Centurion American Express card. These are major financial institutions that all took money from James Ibori and his associates," he notes.

"I think the only way we're going to get serious change is if you have heavy penalties, you go after individual bankers and, in the worst cases, in the most egregious failures, you put people in jail."

Is narcotic khat funding terrorism?

Prosecutors in Ibori's case were aided by a whistleblower, Dotun Oloko. Although Oloko's identity was accidentally leaked back to Nigeria, resulting in his relocation to the UK, he continues to campaign against Nigerian corruption -- whether it's in Britain or Nigeria. He observes a "terrible paradox": "The international financial intermediaries believe they can engage in this kind of activity, being protected by the same states or the same governments that are leading the same anti-corruption battle."

Detective Benton says although British banks do cooperate with his unit, tracing the sources of money can still be difficult, particularly without international cooperation. "They may have accrued legitimate wealth. They may have had family interests in businesses. What you are trying to do is look at a pot of money and go, 'What is legitimate and what isn't?' and that can be very, very, difficult.

A spokesperson from the Proceeds of Corruption Unit said Ibori's embezzled assets will be confiscated and repatriated to their rightful owners -- the people of the Delta State.

"It is always rewarding for anyone working on a proceeds of corruption case to know that the stolen funds they identify will eventually be returned to some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Marketplace Africa
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1100 GMT (1900 HKT)
Fish from the tiny mountain kingdom of Lesotho are served in top Tokyo sushi spots.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 1323 GMT (2123 HKT)
The world-famous waterfall is inspiring a local tourism boom as an increasing number of people is visiting Zimbabwe.
November 11, 2014 -- Updated 1007 GMT (1807 HKT)
Seychelles needed more than pristine beaches and choral reefs to boost its once troubled tourism industry.
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1026 GMT (1826 HKT)
A general view of the Hout Bay harbour covered in mist is seen on May 8, 2010 from the Chapman's peak road on the outskirts of Cape Town. Chapman's peak road is the coastal link between Cape Town and the Cape of Good Hope. When following the African coastline from the equator the Cape of Good Hope marks the psychologically important point where one begins to travel more eastward than southward, thus the first rounding of the cape in 1488 by Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias was a major milestone in the attempts by the Portuguese to establish direct trade relations with the Far East. He called the cape Cabo Tormentoso. As one of the great capes of the South Atlantic Ocean, the Cape of Good Hope has been of special significance to sailors for many years and is widely referred to by them simply as 'the Cape'. It is a major milestone on the clipper route followed by clipper ships to the Far East and Australia, and still followed by several offshore yacht races. AFP PHOTO/GIANLUIGI GUERCIA (Photo credit should read GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images)
Abandoned workshops and empty warehouses are getting a new lease of life in Cape Town.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1037 GMT (1837 HKT)
Inside a glove factory on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, busy laborers turn patches of leather into these fashionable garments.
October 9, 2014 -- Updated 1050 GMT (1850 HKT)
The Somali capital now has its first-ever ATM bank machine -- and it dispenses U.S. dollars.
October 9, 2014 -- Updated 0911 GMT (1711 HKT)
Waves lap at the ships as they pull into the Port of Ngqura, but no swell is stopping the local economy booming.
October 3, 2014 -- Updated 1524 GMT (2324 HKT)
In Uganda, a group of landmine victims are using banana fiber to create rope, profit and community.
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1337 GMT (2137 HKT)
What does it mean to be Nigerian? That's the question on the lips of many in Nigeria as new national identity cards are being rolled out.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1105 GMT (1905 HKT)
 General view of an oil offshore platform owned by Total Fina Elf in the surroundings waters of the Angolan coast 15 October 2003. The 11 members of the OPEC oil cartel have agreed to slash output by a million barrels a day, the OPEC president said 11 October 2006, in a move aimed at shoring up sliding world crude prices.
Six of the top 10 global oil and gas discoveries last year were made in Africa -- but can these finds transform the continent?
February 20, 2014 -- Updated 1121 GMT (1921 HKT)
A South African app allows buyers to pay for goods using their phone, without having to worry about carrying cash or credit cards.
December 13, 2013 -- Updated 0027 GMT (0827 HKT)
African astronomers want world-class observatories to inspire young scientists and build a tech economy.
February 19, 2014 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
A Zambian computer tablet -- known as the ZEduPad -- is trying to open up the country's information highway.
January 9, 2014 -- Updated 1057 GMT (1857 HKT)
South Africa may be the dominant force in Africa's wine economy, but other countries are making inroads in the industry.
October 10, 2013 -- Updated 0927 GMT (1727 HKT)
Eko Atlantic city design concept
A lack of infrastructure has hindered Africa's development, but a series of megaprojects could change that.
Each week Marketplace Africa covers the continent's macro trends and interviews a major player from the region's business community.
ADVERTISEMENT