British prosecutor accuses Oando of laundering money for Ibori, oil company denies

James Ibori

A British prosecutor has told a court that convicted thief and a former governor of Rivers State James Onanefe Ibori hid some of his stolen assets in Oando Oil and also used the firm to launder the money.

Prosecutor Sasha Wass told London’s Southwark Crown Court yesterday that Ibori had substantial shares in Oando, one of the largest indigenous oil firms in Nigeria.

“The Crown will assert that Oando is a company where James Ibori has hidden assets,” Wass said, without specifying. Oando has however  denied that Ibori “owns a large part of Oando”.

In a statement signed by its Head Corporate Communications, Alero Balogun,  the company said that as a publicly traded company, it cannot control who buys its shares and that based on its current shareholding register, “Mr. James Ibori’s shareholding stands at 443 shares out of a total issued and paid up share capital of 6.8 billion ordinary shares, which is clearly insignificant, and cannot be considered as ‘a large part of Oando’.”

On its other financial transaction with Oando, the company it was not aware that a shell company owned by Ibori bought some of the foreign exchange it sold for naira in 2004.

“At the time of the transaction, this information was unknown to Oando. The total amount was US$2.7 million made in three separate transactions over a period of about seven months. This amount was insignificant considering the company’s turnover of approximately US$800million in 2004.

“The above constitutes the only transactions between Oando and any company controlled by Mr. Ibori. Consequently, Oando cannot be described as a company where James Ibori has hidden assets as a result of these foreign exchange transactions,” Balogun  said.

Ibori is serving a 13-year prison sentence at Long Lartin maximum security prison in central England though he could be released as early as 2016 because he spent two years in custody before his sentencing and will be eligible for parole halfway through his prison term. Also, Ibori has a record of fraud in the UK as he convicted twice for credit card fraud in 1990 and 1991. In 2007, his lawyer Bhadresh Gohil, a fiduciary agent Daniel McCann and corporate financier Lambertus De Boer were jailed a total of 30 years for aiding and abetting Ibori’s theft.  Also, Ibori’s sister Christine Ibie-Ibori, and a female associate Uzoamaka Okoronkwo were found guilty of money laundering and jailed five years.

He was convicted on 10 counts of fraud and money laundering worth £50 million  (about N12.5bn) which Judge Anthony Pitts, who sentenced him, said is a “ludicrously low” fraction of his total theft, which could be more than £200 million  (about N50bn). The present trial, which will last three weeks, is to determine how much Ibori stole and confiscate them. Already, Judge Pitts heard that that Ibori has six foreign properties worth £6.9 million (about N1.725bn), a fleet of armoured Range Rovers valued at £600,000 (about N150m), a £120,000 (about N30m) Bentley Continental GT, a Mercedes-Benz Maybach 62 bought for €407,000 (about N11m) cash, that was shipped direct to his mansion in South Africa plus that he had tried to buy a $20-million (N5bn) private jet.

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