18 September 2013, Lagos – Oil firm, Oando Plc, which is being linked by British prosecutors to funds stolen by jailed former Delta State Governor, Chief James Ibori, has hired a top flight British lawyer, Mrs. Cherie Blair QC, to defend its interest in the case. Blair, who is the wife of former British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, has already been paid 200,000 pounds to take up the matter, according to sources familiar with the matter.
This is just as a London court yesterday heard how Ibori had claimed ownership of 30 per cent of Oando Plc, while opening an account with Swiss bank, PKB Privatbank, into which the company paid $1.2m, suspected to be looted funds in 2004.
The court also heard that PKB Privatbank had, in an internal document, likened Ibori, who governed oilproducing Delta State from 1999 to 2007 and influenced national Nigerian politics, to a scion of the Kennedy dynasty in the United States.
Ibori was jailed for 13 years in Britain after pleading guilty in February 2012 to 10 counts of fraud and money laundering worth 50 million pounds ($79.5 million). Prosecutors say his total wealth was likely to be far greater than that and he could have hidden assets in the oil firm.
Oando has however clarified that Ibori owned only 433 shares out of the company’s 6.8 billion issued shares and rejected allegations that the convicted governor had hidden assets in the company.
Details of Ibori’s assets and how he kept them hidden from the public gaze through a web of shell companies and foreign bank accounts are being disclosed as part of a three-week confiscation hearing which began in London on Monday, Reuters reported Tuesday.
The prosecutor, Ms Sasha Wass told Southwark Crown Court yesterday that in 2004, Ibori had opened an account at Lugano-based PKB in the name of a shell company called Stanhope Investments.
Quoting from internal PKB documents, Wass told the court that Ibori had presented himself to the bank as the owner of an insurance company, half of a bank and 30 per cent of Oando.
She said that a total of $1.2m flowed into the PKB account from Oando in three payments that year, which had later been channeled to other accounts and were part of funds intended for the purchase of a $20m private jet.
Oando had said on Monday that Ibori had only an “insignificant” holding in the firm and also said it had sold $2.7m of its foreign exchange earnings for naira in 2004 to a company that had later turned out to be controlled by Ibori.
It said it was not aware of Ibori’s interest in the company at the time. Wass also told the court yesterday that despite his assets being restrained in 2008, Ibori had after that date continued to live a lavish lifestyle, travel and pay fees to the English boarding school where his three children were being educated.
Combined with Ibori’s track record of hiding his assets, this led to the “irresistible inference” that Ibori had further hidden assets which investigators had not yet uncovered, she said, adding that one option of where these might be was Oando.
Wass also quoted from an internal PKB report from 2004 which said Ibori came from one of a few Nigerian families which had for decades developed the oil industry in that country.
“We could compare these families with the Kennedy dynasty, which also mixed business and politics,” the bank document said. Another excerpt said Ibori was “an extremely rich man as he was doing a lot of business before becoming governor.”
PKB, which is fully owned by the Luxembourg- listed Compagnie de l’Occident pour la Finance et l’Industrie, did not immediately respond to a request for comment by Reuters.
Oando had said that sometime in 2004, in the normal course of its business, it sold some of its foreign exchange earnings for naira and the recipient of the US Dollars was a company which has now turned out to be one controlled by James Ibori.
“At the time of the transaction, this information was unknown to Oando. The total amount was $2.7m made in three separate transactions over a period of about seven months. This amount was insignificant considering the company’s turnover of approximately $800m 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,” the company had said in a statement on Monday.
Counsel representing Oando, Mr. Andrew Baillie QC, had stated outside the courtroom: “It is unfortunate that our client has been dragged into these proceedings.
There is no suggestion from the prosecution of any wrongdoing or involvement in wrongdoing on the part of Oando.” In the early 1990s, Ibori worked as a cashier at Wickes, a home improvement chain store in London.
He was convicted of theft in 1991 after being caught taking money from the till. A property he and his wife had bought in a London suburb was repossessed as the couple could not meet mortgage payments.
During his time as governor, however, he amassed a property portfolio worth at least $6.9 million as well as a fleet of luxury cars including a Bentley and a Maybach 62.
– National Mirror