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Monday, 26 April 2010


A trilogy in 4 parts

This essay involves 3 interesting and interconnected personalities, each of them is outstanding in their particular field, each of whom can be described in law enforcement speak as ’a person of interest’ and all three of them are linked to shady deals in shady places or concerned citizens. These 3 individuals are James Ibori, Sarosh Zaiwalla and Tony Baldry

Chief James Ibori was the governor of Delta State of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, one of the key oil producing states in the Federation between 1999 and 2007.

Delta State produces 40% of Nigeria oil revenue and receives from the Federal Government 13% of the total annual revenue received from oil production.
With this massive wealth that is generated and then filtered back into the state it would be expected that this state would be one of the most developed in Nigeria.

Not so.

Ibori used his time in office to extract most of the wealth of that state using a network of family members, lawyers and associates and a large and complex network of companies to steal and launder the money into the UK, USA, South Africa, The British Virgin Islands, Switzerland and beyond.

Theft was not a new vocation for Ibori, between 1990 and 1992 he and his wife were thrice convicted for crimes of theft and dishonesty, in the Greater London area. In 1995 he was convicted in Bwari in Nigeria of criminal conduct and breach of trust.

So how does such a person become a Governor in the Federal Republic of Nigeria?

He initially came to the limelight as a candidate for the defunct National Republican Congress (NRC) for the Federal House of Representatives;
He lost and up to this point was just another petty criminal trying his hand in politics however in 1993 his luck changed, the June 12th Presidential elections were annulled, democracy such as it was, was extinguished and then Gen Sani Abacha came to power and began actively looking for people to assist him in his various nefarious deeds.

According to Ibori’s own website he served as a Special Adviser in public policy formulation between 1994 and 1997 (Abacha ruled from 1993 until his death in 1998)
A man who had lived off UK government charity and supplemented his income through petty crime up until then suddenly had the resources to open a Citibank account in Maryland, in the US in 1994, feeding in several large sums of money.

At the time Ibori, was registered as unemployed in London and claiming unemployment benefits and council housing from the UK, he was also (according to his website) working as a Special Adviser in Public Policy in Nigeria and according to his Citibank application was self employed, an ‘International Policy Analyst/ Consultant’.

Being a man of many capacities who simultaneously could be unemployed, self employed and employed he maintained a balance of $1000- $5000 in the account, until November 1996 where upon he deposited $1.5 million followed by $250,000. He followed this up with instructions to disperse these funds to various Swiss and Bahamian accounts.

The US government was not unnaturally a little bit suspicious of this and seized the funds. Subsequent investigations read like a passage from Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani’s award winning novel ‘I do not come to you by chance!’ as an almost textbook 419 type operation. First he gave the US officials 3 blatantly Nigerian phone numbers claiming he was in the Hyatt Hilton, London, and then he presented 2 US driving licences (Maryland and Virginia) with different dates of birth, all in all between November and December 1996 he received and disbursed over $1.75 million to accounts round the world.

So what was special about 1996 that an unemployed petty criminal was able to set himself up as a millionaire and International Policy Analyst?
Well in November 1995, the Abacha regime had hung the 9 Ogoni activists and was under increased international pressure from the international community, NADECO, the Nigeria Labour Congress, MKO Abiola and co.

Abacha was at this time promulgating his vision 2010, i.e. his plan to remain in power up until 2010 and beyond. To fund this he needed useful people to silence his critics and salt away sufficient funds to keep his family in luxury and pay off the various ‘interested parties’ in Nigeria

James Ibori was one of these useful people.

In 1996 Kudirat Abiola wife of imprisoned winner of the 1993 elections was murdered, Alex Ibru publisher of the Guardian was shot. Various Labour and civil liberties activists including Adams Oshimowole (current governor of Edo State, another state in the Niger Delta) were arrested and tortured. According to the Special Investigative Panel set up after the Abacha regime, Ibori was key to this repression using his old political contacts to gather information on the various activists and generating support for pro- Abacha groups

This is further reinforced by the fact that this unemployed, self employed, employed consultant managed to open a newspaper (Diet Newspapers) in October 1996. His business partner was Hadi Hamza, who is the brother of Major Hamza Al Mustapha, Abacha’s Chief Security Officer (currently in prison awaiting trial for the various murders above).

This newspaper was used solely to propagate Abacha must stay propaganda, to the point that it was no longer credible. To remedy this when Abacha manufactured a coup attempt against his regime in 1997 he not only arrested the alleged perpetrators but also the journalists who reported the case. Alongside pro democracy journalists was the editor of Ibori’s paper Niran Malaolu.

Of the 4 arrested journalists 3 were released on bail with the exception of Malaolu who was detained for over a year. Whether this was because he knew something incriminating about his boss or mere ruthlessness is unknown however it gave Ibori the breathing space to claim his paper was independent and was as much persecuted as the others, the pertinent thing is Malaolu an individual who is not known for any journalistic or literary ability, who has run at least 2 newspapers into dissolution ended up as Commissioner for Information in Ogun State under Governor Gbenga Daniels, (another fascinating individual) and now runs the only private radio station in the state. The Diet newspaper folded almost immediately the Abacha regime ended

Thus in 1996 Ibori was firmly ensconced in the bosom of Abacha’s murderous apparatus to the extent that when the US authorities wished to seize the mysterious $1.75 million, the Abacha regime manufactured several letters and documents to justify the payments, which were originally claimed as fees for services ‘from unknown sources’, were later claimed by the Abacha regime to US authorities to be payments recovered by Ibori on behalf of the Nigerian Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Petroleum Resources.

In 1998 Abacha died and his various boys scrambled to find their feet, some like Ibori were lucky and smoothly transitioned in the new political dispensation, using his wealth and contacts to form the Grassroots Democratic Movement which morphed into the Delta National Congress and then with other nascent parties into the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the current ruling party in Nigeria.

In the 1999 general election the three key Niger Delta states were all won by PDP. This victory was assured via the assiduous rigging and intimidation perpetrated by militants under the aegis of the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC).
Therefore Ibori had increased his capacities agaib, he was no longer just a petty criminal, or claiming benefits in London, he was no longer unemployed, self employed or employed he was the Governor of the wealthiest state in the wealthiest country in West Africa

Upon entering office (despite the minor inconvenience of a court challenge by his opponent), there was a massive upsurge in ethnic violence in Delta State with the Ijaw, Urhobo and Itekiri’s involved in a tripartite violent armed struggle.
Coincidentally at the same time the Ijaw Youth Council splitting into the Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force and the Niger Delta Volunteers.

You see at this point the three key Niger Delta governors Peter Odili (Rivers State), Diepreye Alamieyeseigha (Bayelsa State) and James Ibori (Delta State) had decided the had enough of being under the control of their godfather and founder of the IYC, Edwin Clark so decided to sponsor rival militant groups.

These groups derived funding through bunkering (stealing oil) and basically the ethnic violence was a turf war between the various splinter factions in order to secure the most lucrative bunkering routes. They also quite cheerfully took time out to kill and harass both PDP and non PDP rivals of these good fellows, unsurprisingly they were all re elected.

The capital of Rivers State, Port Harcourt and key port and oil city of Warri in Delta State turned into war zones as these rival groups and their various factions fought it out, thousands were killed (mainly innocent civilians) and tens of thousands displaced.

When President Obasanjo decided he wanted to amend the constitution to run for a 3rd term, Ibori was one of those to oppose him. Although those opposed to the 3rd term campaign were successful, the chickens came home to roods with corruption, as Obasanjo used his last days in office to unleash his attack dogs at the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) against them.

They obviously didn’t need to look far, Odili and Alamieyeseigha were quickly brought to heel charged and arrested. Although they got off with relatively light sentences the message was clear. Ibori was different, he had stolen so much and controlled such a powerful militant and bunkering network that his pockets were deeper and he was able to keep buying his way out of trouble.

Despite the charges and investigations hanging over him he reinvented himself as a power broker, once his 2 terms in office (and immunity from prosecution) had ended donating heavily to Umaru Yar Adua’s presidential campaign. Using his embezzled money, bunkering funds and his capacity as the godfather of a private militia he delivered the Niger Delta states for Yar Adua and PDP and helped bankroll the final Supreme Court judgement that brought Yar Adua to power to the tune of N30 million per judge

His reward when Yar Adua became President was to appoint his own people to key positions, i.e. Attorney General, Inspector General of Police, and to get his nemesis Nuhu Ribadu dismissed from the EFCC and in an added twist charged with corruption himself.

Thus our friend Ibori was no longer self employed or unemployed but decided to increase his capacities to warlord ($70 per fight, 7 times the Afghan Taliban’s going rate incidentally), illegal oil trader and then power broker, political sponsor and EFCC smasher. Quite a guy!

Unfortunately the change in EFCC’s direction didn’t come quickly enough for Ibori as the EFCC had been working closely with the UK Metropolitan Police, Proceeds of Corruption Unit and they had sufficient evidence to charge Ibori and a wide coterie of his associates with money laundering and various other fraudulent practices.
Ibori fortunately for him skipped out of the UK on time but his wife Theresa (Tessi) Ibori, mistress Udoamaka Okoronkwo (nee Onuigbo), sister Christine Omatie Ibori-Ibie, personal assistant Adebimpe Folayinmi Pogoson, lawyer Bhadresh Gohil, and financial advisers Daniel McCann and Lambertus De Boer were not so lucky and have been hauled before the UK criminal courts for money laundering and other associated financial crimes.

Iboris corruption is such as too be on par with Abacha, he used no less than 35 companies to launder his stolen money and execute bogus contracts.
One of his scams involved using Delta State Governments 820 million shares in Intercontinental bank as collateral to secure a N44billion loan from Intercontinental Bank Plc for Ascot Offshore (an unknown company owned by a close Ibori associate Henry Imaseka) in 2007 to purchase Wilbros International and oil servicing company.

Needless to say these toxic loans caused these banks to collapse in 2009.
Part of the evidence the Crown has against Christine Ibori- Ibie (Ibori’s sister) is a contract awarded to a company Onovin Ltd to supply running tracks for a stadium, although £300,000 was released to the company less than £100,000 was paid to the actual suppliers of the running track. The owner of the Onovin is Vincent Uduaghan, brother of current Delta State Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan.
Ibori’s known or suspected assets in the UK total £35 million, not bad for a man who was unemployed and then earned no more than £25,000 per annum during his time in office.

Thus in addition to his harem and lawyers being on trial in the UK, in Nigeria he was charged with 147 counts of corruption. The original trial was scheduled to hold in Kaduna, however was moved to Asaba, Delta State, where Ibori not only controlled the militants but as we have seen shared the wealth liberally with his successor Emmanuel Uduaghan

Needless to say this case went nowhere, there were several adjournments all of which coincided with attempts by the lawyers of those on trial in the UK to claim that the UK trial should be halted so they could return to stand trial in Nigeria. It even got to the ridiculous point that defence lawyers in the UK were making statements that could be construed as confirming Ibori criminally enriched himself, thus the Nigerian defendants had to go back to Nigeria to testify against him

“ Andrew Trollope QC, defence counsel to Christine Ibie-Ibori, read out the bundles of papers received from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), one of which stated that James Ibori defrauded Delta State along with his close associates and relatives through inflated contracts, including the supply of 271 vehicles to the government of Delta State and that virtually all the contracts awarded during his position as governor were to extract massive amounts of money from oil-rich state.

He also stated that Mrs. Pogoson established a company with the intention of removing money from Nigeria on behalf of James Ibori and keeping it in foreign accounts, thereby using foreign companies as receptacles for proceeds from laundered money.

Trollope QC affirmed that the EFCC had alleged that (Pogoson’s) MER-UK company assisted James Ibori to purchase choice properties in both United Kingdom and United States of America, and that Ibori was poor prior to the 1999 election that brought him to power. He, however, left office in 2007 with ‘sudden unexplained wealth’ which can be traced to unspecified crimes or illicit business activities.”

Fortunately the UK Judge was quite adamant and the trial went ahead, when Ibori realised he could not use ‘Nigerian style’ to get the cases against these peoples quashed, he then deployed his biggest gun yet using Sarosh Zaiwalla an extremely notorious lawyer with a very questionable reputation in the UK Asian legal community to pay a barrister Tony Baldry in September 2009 to write to the UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, copying in the Attorney-General, the Lord Chancellor, the Secretary of State for Justice and the Secretary of State for the Home Department allegedly stating that the trial of Iboris relatives and co conspirators threatens UK national security and energy security interest and allegedly endeavouring to get the trial halted.

The interesting thing is that Mr Baldry is a top member of the Conservative Party from the same region as the head of the Conservative Party David Cameron. He states that the letter was written in his capacity as a Barrister not as a Member of Parliament however James Ibori was not on trial, and all the defendants have solicitors and barristers, thus there is no logical reason for a barrister who is an MP would be writing to fellow MP’s and politicians other than to use that link to influence behaviour.

It is interesting that in the letter Mr Baldry allegedly stated that due to Ibori’s links with militants UK nationals and interests could be threatened if the case against him continued.

It is alleged that Mr Baldry visited Abuja in 2009 and met President Yar Adua (Mr Baldry is yet to deny this), Ibori’s chief backer and was convinced that Ibori’s trial was political persecution by people who wished to destroy the amnesty in the Niger Delta.

Obviously this tugged at Mr Baldry’s heart strings so for a mere £22,012.57 he wrote 5 pages of I presume high powered legal arguments to 5 political appointees in the UK government (in his capacity as a barrister of course), in reference to the case.
Unfortunately this ruse didn’t work and the case went ahead, James Ibori’s luck went from bad to worse as his patron Yar Adua was rushed to Saudi Arabia in a near vegetative state, knowing that the continuation of Yar Adua’s rule was his only protection, he invested heavily in the charade that surrounded the former President, sponsoring the various groups that were preventing the vice president from assuming executive powers.

Again Mr Ibori’s capacities failed him and his overt backing of the wrong horse snapped the patience of the government and his cases were re-activated, spurning several invitations to come to the EFCC he was declared wanted where upon he retired to his village Oghara, Delta State. The police team sent to arrest him was subsequently attacked by 1000 militants who blocked access to the town and forced them to pull back giving Ibori cover to run away into the creeks of the Niger Delta.
Thus in a full circle of capacities the petty criminal who became a governor using militants becomes a fugitive with those self same militants

The most fascinating aspect is that Mr Baldry in his capacity as a barrister was able to accurately predict that the man he interceded on behalf of who was on trial in his capacity as a thief would eventually turn to armed militants and militancy.

Next part: The many capacities if Tony Baldry, MP, Barrister, Businessman, debtor

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