It was a startling revelation at a London court Tuesday at the hearing on the confiscation of assets of the former Governor of Delta State, James Ibori, as he was said to be owner of almost one-third of Oando Oil Plc.
On the second day of the ongoing hearing at the Sourthwark Crown Court, London, Crown Prosecutor, Sasha Wass told the court that Ibori himself made the declaration to a bank with which he wanted to open an account a few years ago. But the oil company has described Ibori as an insignificant shareholder.
Sasha Wass, the Prosecutor also revealed to the court that Oando actually made two transfers of $500, 000 to Ibori’s account before he left office.
According to Wass, “Oando is a place where he has hidden his assets. On another occasion, the oil company paid another £1.2 million into his bank account.” Ibori, meanwhile, has signed a document informing the court he “does not want to attend the hearing nor want to give any evidence from his prison via video-link.”
As for Oando, the ripples which the investigation and hearing have generated have put the company in the eye of the storm. For the second day, a legal representative of the company, one Mr. Bailey, sought a private hearing with the judge, saying he needed to make him aware of something. Wass, on her part, told the court when proceedings resumed in the morning that she did not want the court to be distracted by a third party, which is not really part or subject of the confiscation.
After Judge Anthony Pitts said he would rather have Bailey say what he wanted in the open court or tell the lawyers from both sides, Bailey insisted the Judge grant him a private hearing. The following dialogue then ensued:
Bailey (addressing the judge) : As you know, I’m not party to any of the two. But I should make you know of a matter that happened outside the court.
Judge: Do the prosecution know what you’re going to say?
Bailey: They know in part, but none of the two matters know what I’m going to say.
The judge asked him to first tell both teams, and he said he will. But Bailey had already sent a letter to the judge and this prompted another dialogue between Pitts and Wass.
Wass: I was surprised to see your Honour reading a letter from Mr. Bailey which I’ve not been shown. The Crown is extremely reluctant to have matters discussed in private in this case. Private hearings are only used in extreme circumstances and if it is that, then.
Judge: I too I am reluctant to do it, because it’s an usual thing to do.
Wass: I wonder if Mr. Bailey can let us know what he is going to discuss.
Continuing, Wass noted that ”the overriding issue in this case is that it is a confiscation hearing and what the court has to decide is if Mr. Ibori has benefitted. The court is not sitting to look after the commercial interest of any party.”
The judge then adjourned and gave Bailey permission to talk to both the prosecutors and the defence team. When proceedings resumed, Wass was the first off the Bench, telling Pitts and Ibori’s team: “I remind the court that Oando are not part of this proceeding and it is inappropriate that they are interfering in this way.” The court took another break for a closed session during which the media and the public were sent out.
At the afternoon session, Wass detailed how Ibori used several cronies to defraud Delta State during his two-terms as governor, from 1999. She told how Ibori described himself as a “very rich man who owned 50 per cent of a bank and 30 per cent of an oil company,” when he wanted to open a foreign bank account in 2004. Wass told the court Ibori said he “earned $10 million per year and has a net worth of $100 million.” Ibori, she told the court, has a “pattern of hiding his assets.” Among others, “there was a flat in Washington” and “Ibori paid huge amount of cash to Barclays Bank in UK. By 2005, Barclays was asking questions about the cash flow. It was then he was introduced to his lawyer, Mr Gohil. This was a solicitor who was instrumental to creating vehicles to hide money. The sophistication of hiding money was increased after he was introduced to Ibori.”
Giving details of when Ibori revealed himself as one of the owners of Oando, Wass said: “On Dec 8, 2004, he described himself as one from a noble family, compared to the Kennedy Family. He was described as a very rich man, owns half of a bank and called Wale Tinubu his friend.” When the bank “asked what is the value of his assets to be transferred, he said it is about $100 million, that was how Ibori described himself.”
Describing how he offered millions to Ribadu, Wass said: “Towards the end of his term as governor, he was aware that EFCC was investigating him. So, on April 25, 2007, he made Mr. Ribadu a cash offer of $15million. It was delivered in a truck by Ibori. Ribadu did not pocket the money. He’s coming to give evidence. And on that very day, an email was sent to Gohil.” The Met Police saw the hidden note when Gohil was arrested.
In a statement, Oando said: “We state categorically that Mr. James Ibori does not own ‘a large part of Oando’ and that this statement is incorrect and misleading. Oando is a publicly traded company listed on the Nigerian and Johannesburg Stock Exchanges and does not and cannot control the trading in its securities on the floor of the respective exchanges. Based on our 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’.
Oando also stated 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 Ibori.
It added: “At the time of the transaction, this information was unknown to Oando. The total amount was US$2.7 million made in 3 separate transactions over a period of about 7 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.”
Commenting on the statements made in court, Andrew Baillie QC, counsel representing Oando also 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”.
Information from The Guardian was used in this report.