Should the legal team of former Delta State governor, Chief James Onanefe Ibori, choose to toe the same path as Ibori’s associate, Mr. Bhandresh Gohil, by appealing the former governor’s conviction for money laundering, his team and that of the British prosecution that successfully jailed him for more than five years, could hit a stalemate.
Ever since Ibori’s conviction in April 2012 for laundering an estimated £50 million that earned him a prison sentence of 13 years in the United Kingdom, the former governor’s case has been immersed in a vortex of criminal investigations that found that the London police which investigated him took bribes and the prosecutors covered it up.
Ibori, who was released from a British prison on Wednesday, is nonetheless still facing two obstacles before he can return to Nigeria.
According to AFP, he must face a deportation hearing and then also pay £18 million to the UK government as the “proceeds of crime”.
The unresolved issues almost elongated Ibori’s incarceration, until a British high court judge gave an order that he should be released and that attempts to detain him were “quite extraordinary.”
Ordering Ibori to be immediately freed from prison, Mrs. Justice May said: “You don’t hold someone just because it is convenient to do so and without plans to deport them.”
A Home Office application that Ibori be electronically tagged and subjected to strict curfew conditions was also rejected.
The judge accepted arguments that the home secretary was attempting to misuse her immigration and deportation powers.
IboriIbori, a former London store cashier, was jailed for fraud totalling nearly £50 million in April 2012.
He evaded capture in Nigeria after a mob of supporters attacked the police in his hometown Oghara, but was arrested in Dubai in 2010 and extradited to the UK, where he was prosecuted based on evidence from the Metropolitan Police.
On Wednesday, the Home Office’s barrister said the government was concerned that Ibori might “frustrate confiscation proceedings” and wanted him kept in jail or subjected to strict controls on his movement.
But it emerged in court that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), which is pursuing the confiscation proceedings, was “neutral” about Ibori’s release and possible deportation.
However, a statement by Ibori’s media aide yesterday, Mr. Tony Eluemunor pointed out that his principal had been persecuted, instead of prosecuted, “which also led to the investigation of those who had earlier investigated and prosecuted him; the result was a far-reaching corruption indictment within such agencies”.
He recalled that the Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, heeding the call of British journalists, subsequently demanded a review of the evidence following allegations that police took bribes and prosecutors tried to cover it up.
“The review team found material to support the assertion that a police officer received payment in return for information,” the CPS admitted in September 2016.
Eluemunor added that many Nigerians might not appreciate the depth of the legal victory Ibori achieved on Wednesday.
“A different verdict would have sent him into indefinite detention, because the confiscation hearing the British Home Secretary wanted to detain Ibori form until it is concluded, is a second one.
“The first one ended September 2013, with no proof of theft of any money from Delta State. Just when judgment was to be given, the prosecution asked for a retrial just because they had no evidence of any theft. Surprisingly, the court granted them their wish.”p
He said now that Ibori’s associates in the case, especially Mr. Bhadresh Gohil, has appealed his conviction, and Ibori’s lawyers are considering going on appeal too, the appeals will have to end before the confiscation hearing may ever begin.
“Also, nobody knows how long they may last; so Ibori would have remained indefinitely in detention. His freedom from this indefinite detention is the essence of Wednesday’s victory. And if the appeals are sustained, there will be no confiscation hearing at all,” Eluemonor explained.
Ibori’s media aide also debunked news reports yesterday that the former governor was placed under police restriction or surveillance in the UK, adding that he also does not have to report to the police at all.
Eluemunor said the need to issue the clarification had arisen from the conflicting reports by several media organisations over the terms guiding Ibori’s release.
He said: “A mischievous online publication misled many Nigerians into believing that Ibori would wear an ankle tag that would beam his whereabouts to the police and also report weekly to the police.
“But from the quoted BBC report, no such order ever came from the court but from some corrupt and corrupting minds.
“In fact, the BBC, quoting the judge, Her Honour, Mrs. Justice Juliet May, Queen’s Counsel, said: ‘The position of the Secretary of State, as very candidly set out by Mr. Birdling (representing the home secretary), is that she accepts that there is an argument that she has no power to detain him.
‘I have decided that the balance of convenience falls heavily in favour of his (Ibori’s) immediate release. I am not prepared to impose conditions involving tagging or curfews’.”
Eluemunor added that Ibori has given every thanks and glory to the Almighty God for making his release from jail possible, despite the last-minute obstacle the British Secretary of State placed in his way.
“He is grateful to his team of lawyers who fought gallantly for his release. He sends his heartfelt gratitude to the dozens of mainstream news organisations, especially in Britain and Nigeria, that trained attention on the relentless persecution, instead of prosecution, he was receiving and which also led to the investigation of those who had earlier investigated and prosecuted him; the result was far-reaching corruption indictments within such agencies.
“Beyond all else, Ibori thanks his teeming supporters across the country for standing behind him all through his travails. Specially, he thanks Niger Deltans for standing solidly behind him and assured them that the justice and equity they seek both for themselves and others in a peaceful, united, prosperous and just Nigeria will one day be achieved,” the former governor’s spokesman stated.
Meanwhile, the Delta State Government has said it has no case with its former governor, adding that it was very happy he had been released from a London prison.
The state Commissioner for Information, Patrick Ukah, stated this in Asaba yesterday while responding to questions after briefing journalists on the outcome of the last State Executive Council (SEC) meeting, reported the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).
According to Ukah, the close associates of the former governor and all those who know him and love him had expressed joy at his release.
“We are all very happy that our son, our brother, former governor has been released. So, it is a thing of joy and the only expression as a state is that we are happy.
“I think everybody who has a personal relationship with him, will be very happy and I think that as a state we don’t have issues with our former governor and he is somebody that everybody loves,” he said.
He said at the last meeting, the state government had approved the award of more road contracts and assured that ongoing roads construction would get a boost in April next year.