REPORTING FROM JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA -- The former governor of Nigeria's oil-rich Delta state, James Ibori, accused of stealing $250 million from state coffers, pleaded guilty to money laundering and fraud in a British court Monday.
Ibori, formerly one of the ruling People's Democratic Party's most influential figures, was arrested in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in 2010 and extradited to London, where he had six luxury houses. At the time of his arrest, Ibori was negotiating to buy himself a private jet.
Ibori's case tells the story of a country rich in oil but characterized by Transparency International as one of the most corrupt, where billions of dollars in state funds has been stolen by government officials over many years and salted away in overseas bank accounts or spent on lavish lifestyles.
British authorities, who had investigated the case for seven years, announced Monday that Ibori's assets would be seized and returned to the people of Delta state. Ibori admitted to 10 counts of money laundering and fraud involving nearly $80 million, while pleading not guilty to an additional 13 counts.
Before he worked his way up through the Nigerian ruling party to become one of the country's influential politicians, Ibori was a petty thief in Britain. He had worked in a DIY store in Ruislip in the 1990s. He was convicted in 1991 of stealing from the shop and a year later was convicted of using a stolen credit card to steal around $1,600.
According to the prosecutor, Sasha Wass, Ibori "tricked" his way into office by changing his birth date and pretending he had no criminal record. His record would have barred him from standing for office, had it been known.
"He was never the legitimate governor and there was effectively a thief in government house. As the pretender of that public office, he was able to plunder Delta state's wealth and hand out patronage," the prosecutor said.
Ibori enjoyed immunity from prosecution while in office. His salary as governor was $25,000 a year.
"He got control of contracts and corruptly awarded them to his associates," said Wass. "He plundered the public purse and there is no explanation for his wealth other than he got it corruptly."
Ibori's wife, sister, mistress and London lawyer had all been previously convicted of money laundering. One of the cases involved stealing the proceeds of the sale of a cellphone company.
-- Robyn Dixon
Photo: James Ibori, the former governor of Nigeria's Delta state, is seen in an undated photo. Credit: London Metropolitan Police