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Home arrow Africa arrow Governor ‘hid stolen £20m’ in UK banks
Governor ‘hid stolen £20m’ in UK banks PDF Print E-mail
Written by Christopher Thompson, The Sunday Times of London   
Nov 19, 2007 at 12:27 AM
A FORMER governor of Nigeria’s richest province has used banks in Britain to stash £20m in stolen funds to finance his flamboyant lifestyle, police investigators allege.

James Ibori, who ran the oil-rich Delta state until May, is being investigated by the Metropolitan police for allegedly laundering the money during 2005-06, using a web of high-street banks in London and an international array of front companies.

According to a witness statement made by a financial investigator working for the Met, Ibori used accounts at branches of HSBC, Barclays and Abbey to buy luxury cars and homes.

These include a £4m mansion in Hampstead, north London, a nearby flat for a mistress and a country retreat in Dorset. Ibori owned a Bentley Continental GT, a Jaguar and an armoured Mercedes-Benz Maybach.

The statement for the Met, seen by The Sunday Times, says that since 2005 funds from Nigeria, intended for education and engineering projects, “[were] allegedly stolen by James Ibori [and] have been laundered through the UK banking system”.

One payment, of £275,873, was made to a Mayfair car dealership for an armour-plated Maybach limousine in 2005.

Ibori, who denies the accusations, has not been charged with any wrongdoing. His lawyers declined to comment.

Known as the “Dapper Don” because of his taste for tailored clothes and Californian wines, Ibori, described by some as a political godfather, would visit London on shopping sprees with his wife.

The investigation is looking at payments by Shell and Chevron-Texaco to his businesses in his home state. Over three years, Shell, Chevron and the Nigerian National Petroleum Company paid £3.6m into a Barclays account controlled by Ibori for renting out houseboats to foreign employees.

Last Thursday the Court of Appeal confirmed a freeze on Ibori’s UK assets, worth £17.1m.

According to an affidavit, the Met intervened at an unspecified date to block his purchase of a private jet from Bombardier, the manufacturers, for $20m (£9.8m) while he was still in office and receiving an official salary of just £12,000 a year.

Ibori is a close ally of Nigeria’s reformist president, Umaru Yar’Adua, who came to power this year on an antigraft platform. Ibori is alleged to have funded his campaign.

During Ibori’s tenure as governor of Delta state - between 1999 and May 2007 - there was a breakdown in law and order, which hit the poor particularly hard. Most of Delta’s inhabitants subsist on less than 50p a day.

Armed gangs sporting colourful names such as the Vikings and Black Axe patrol the region’s swamps and creeks. Since January last year, 30 Britons have been kidnapped there and one was killed, according to the Foreign Office.

After Ibori left office he was investigated by Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.

An associate who met Ibori in New York in September told The Sunday Times that he was “desperate to prove that his hands are clean”.

The Met has recently launched a crackdown on foreigners using Britain as a haven for corruptly acquired assets. Ibori is the third Nigerian governor to be investigated under the Proceeds of Crime Act introduced in 2002.

The two others charged with money laundering in London jumped bail. One has since been convicted of corruption by a Nigerian court, while the other is on trial.

HSBC, Abbey and Barclays declined to comment but said they would cooperate fully with any police investigation.

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