Ibori: A Public Scandal

James IboriA Public Scandal By SimonM first published in June 2009….Tomorrow in Kaduna Province in Nigeria Chief James Ibori might, and I use the word ‘might’ very advisedly, stand trial on corruption charges. However, the latest view seems to be that the Nigerian Federal Government and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Nigeria’s version of the Serious Fraud Office, may have decided to discontinue proceedings.

Quite apart from it all being a long way away many people in Britain will probably shrug at this news and make some remark that suggests they are unsurprised. The popularly held belief being that Nigerian anti-corruption proceedings are about as likely to succeed as Italian heroics or German jokes.

However that would be very wrong and everybody who values freedom and liberty in Britain should be keeping a sharp ear out for what might or might not happen in Western Africa tomorrow.

For one thing, we have no right to scoff at Nigerian values of rectitude in public life. The expenses scandal that has mired everybody connected with the Lords and Commons is as blatant a bit of jobbery and graft as has besmirched the so called Mother of Parliaments since the days of the rotten boroughs.

That, however, is not the main reason why we should all be attentive as to whether the former Governor of Delta Province’s trial commences.  What demands our interest is that ensnared in the sticky web of lies and intrigue that surrounds Chief James Ibori is a hapless British subject who is suffering the most appalling injustices. Moreover these injustices are not inflicted by the Nigerian authorities but by the UK’s own law enforcement agencies.

Bhadresh Gohil, solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales, senior partner of Arlingtons Sharmas in London’s Piccadilly, is currently on bail awaiting notification as to whether the Crown Prosecution Service are going to proceed with a number of serious charges that they have laid against him. These charges laid against Mr Gohil refer to when he was acting as a solicitor for Chief Ibori and his family and entourage whilst the Chief was Governor of Delta Province but spending a considerable amount of time in UK. If Bhadresh is subsequently tried on these charges and found guilty a custodial sentence, loss of livelihood, disgrace and possible ruin await. There is, therefore, a great deal at stake.

What has happened? Well without reciting a litany of rather complex points and issues and possibly risking an accusation of being in contempt of court as these charges have yet to be put before a jury let us say this:

1.The essential charge made out against Bhadresh is that he allowed his law firm to be used to ‘launder’ large sums of money that had been obtained illegally by his clients: Chief James Ibori and his wife, family and entourage.

2. The EFCC had accused Chief Ibori of stealing the money from Delta Province whilst he was Governor and using Bhadresh’s firm as the conduit to move it out of Nigeria and into goods and property overseas.

3. At the behest of the EFCC the Metropolitan Police had arrested Chief Ibori and his wife and a number of associates who were at the time in England. However, all were subsequently released and allowed to return to Nigeria without charge when the Nigerian Government failed to produce any evidence of criminality.

4. Despite the fact that his clients were effectively innocent in the eyes of the UK authorities, Bhadresh found himself the subject of a police investigation which subsequently led to his arrest and charge. But the way that the investigation was carried out, the evidence upon which the charges were based and the subsequent conduct of the proceedings has shown up British law enforcement to be as rotten and as compromised as anything to be found in the Third World today. Indeed beside it Nigerian jurisprudence looks like the Ten Commandments.

5. Even more ridiculous is the fact that when Chief Ibori returned to Nigeria, the charges not being able to be made to stick in the UK, he was arrested again and confronted with the same accusations. Yet even in Nigeria they could not prove their case and so have had to create new ones. The upshot of it all is that the charges that he is now required to face and which will be the subject of tomorrow’s proceedings bear no relevance at all to the activities that Bhadresh was involved in and for which he now faces trial.

6. A clue as to what lies behind all this nonsense is that at the time that these investigations began the EFCC was led by a Nigerian policeman called Nuhu Ribadu. Mr Ribadu held a deep grudge against Chief Ibori, who he felt had failed to help him advance his career. Mr Ribadu also had a number of important contacts in the various UK law enforcement agencies that were keen to help him be seen to be cracking down on Nigerian Government corruption.


So what has clearly happened is that the Met Police, and not for the first time, has taken the word of an unreliable source to commence an investigation. When that investigation has broken down and the possibility of embarrassing revelations emerges they try and save face by finding a suitable scapegoat and pinning whatever they can on him.

This is what has happened to Bhadresh. Frustrated at being unable to help their friend Ribadu and put away Chief Ibori the Met has gone for the sitting duck that is the hapless professional who was only doing his job.

In vain does Bhadresh insist that he complied with his professional obligations, his ‘due diligence’ requirements, his ‘know your client’ formalities; the authorities do not listen. He has even produced clear proof that all the funds that his firm handled on behalf of the Ibori’s emanated from legitimate sources; no one cares.

The simple and shocking fact is that as far as the Metropolitan Police and the Crown Prosecution Service are concerned any solicitor in the UK who acts for a Nigerian with money is de facto acting for a crook and therefore all financial transactions are potentially fraudulent no matter what evidence you can produce to the contrary.

This is clearly monstrous. Apart from being racist, bigoted and biased it completely tramples over two essential tenets of legal practice. The first is that a man is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and the second is that everyone is entitled to legal representation; even rich Nigerians.

As I write this piece word arrives of the resignation of the Home Secretary. This is excellent news but to confront, challenge and reform the Metropolitan Police so that these spurious investigations are put under proper control may take a bit of time and time for Bhadresh is running out fast.