Convicted Nigerian politician Ibori faces huge UK confiscation order

By Estelle Shirbon

LONDON (Reuters) – A London court should order the confiscation of more than 100 million pounds ($129 million) from Nigerian politician James Ibori, a convicted fraudster who spent years in prison in Britain, a state prosecutor told the court on Thursday.

A former governor of oil-producing Delta State in southern Nigeria, Ibori was extradited in 2011 from Dubai to London, where he was charged with laundering a corruptly acquired fortune.

He pleaded guilty in 2012 to 10 counts of fraud and money-laundering and received a 13-year jail sentence, an outcome hailed by Britain as a landmark in the struggle against corruption.

With its highly developed financial and legal services and lucrative property market, Britain is a global money-laundering hub, but it is rare for the foreign kleptocrats it attracts to be prosecuted and Ibori’s case remains an outlier.

After more than a decade of legal wrangling and court delays, attempts by prosecutors to confiscate funds considered to be the benefits of Ibori’s criminality now appear close to conclusion.

Judge David Tomlinson of Southwark Crown Court has made factual findings regarding the funds. At a hearing on Thursday, both sides made competing arguments about how the confiscation figure should be calculated, taking into account the judge’s findings. He is expected to finalise and formally issue his order on Friday or shortly afterwards.

Lead prosecution counsel Jonathan Kinnear told the court that the total amount that should be confiscated from Ibori was 101.5 million pounds, and that if he did not pay up he should be sentenced to between five and 10 years in prison.

Having served half of his prison sentence in pre- and post-trial detention, as is common, Ibori returned to Nigeria in 2017 and did not attend Thursday’s hearing. He told Reuters by text message he planned to appeal against the confiscation order.

Ibori remains influential and well-connected in Nigerian politics. President Bola Tinubu, who was inaugurated in May, has hosted Ibori twice at the presidential villa, along with other former governors.

Britain has pledged to return any money recovered from Ibori to Nigeria. In 2021, it returned 4.2 million pounds that had been confiscated from Ibori’s ex-wife and his sister, who also served jail time for helping him launder money. ($1 = 0.7745 pounds)

(This story has been corrected to say the judge made ‘factual findings’ not a ‘confiscation order’ after clarification from judge, in paragraph 6)

(Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Alex Richardson)