Nigerian Politician Loses Appeal Against UK Money-Laundering Conviction

October 17, 2018 Updated: October 17, 2018

LONDON—A Nigerian politician who was jailed in Britain for laundering tens of millions of dollars in stolen public funds through British banks and properties lost an appeal against his conviction in London on Oct. 17.

The Court of Appeals ruling against James Ibori, a former governor of oil-producing Delta state in southern Nigeria, is a relief for the British authorities at a time when they are trying to stem the flow of dirty money from overseas through London.

Ibori, who at one time was one of Nigeria’s richest and most powerful men, pleaded guilty in a London court in 2012 to 10 counts of fraud and money laundering involving sums of at least 50 million pounds ($66 million).

He received a 13-year jail sentence of which he served half, as is common in the UK system, and is now back in Nigeria.

Anti-corruption campaigners had hailed the case as a milestone for Nigeria, where no one of his stature had been successfully prosecuted, and for its former colonial ruler Britain, long seen as too complacent about the proceeds of Nigerian corruption being laundered in the UK.

“[The ruling] sends a clear message to the world that James Ibori, a man who stole millions from the Nigerian government and laundered those proceeds in the UK, has been rightly held to account,” said Ben Wallace, Britain’s minister for security and economic crime.

Ibori owned multimillion-pound homes in Britain, South Africa, and the United States, including an English country house near the private school where his children were being educated. He also owned a Jaguar and a Bentley and was buying a $20 million private jet at the time of his arrest.

This contrasted sharply with the situation in Delta state, a maze of mangrove creeks crisscrossed by pipelines and plagued by violent conflict over access to oil money, where most people make do without electricity or clean water.

Alleged Police Corruption

Wallace said that following the ruling, Britain would work with the Nigerian authorities to repatriate the criminal assets, to be used for the benefit of the Nigerian people.

“We will pursue this vigorously through the legal process,” he said.

Despite his guilty pleas, Ibori appealed his conviction, alleging that one of the British police officers who investigated him had taken bribes from a private detective in return for inside tips about the probe, an accusation that the officer denies.

Ibori also alleged that British prosecutors had covered up the corruption, tainting the judicial process. Those allegations had threatened to turn the case into a major embarrassment for Britain. But three senior appeal judges said the bribery wasn’t proven, and if, it had happened, Ibori himself had instigated it as the private detective was working for him.

“As Ibori was instrumental in [the officer’s] corruption, if corruption there was, he cannot, even arguably, rely upon it to escape his convictions,” the ruling said.

In a statement sent to media after the ruling, Ibori accused the Court of Appeal of being part of the cover-up and said he would take his case to the European Court of Human Rights.

By Estelle Shirbon