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09 December 2013
British nationals accused of bribery
James Ibori embezzlement case
Fuel subsidy scam
Several significant anti-corruption developments related to Nigeria have occurred outside Nigeria, and observers could be forgiven for suggesting that the most prominent developments have not occurred in the country.
In December 2012 four British nationals, employees of UK company Swift, were charged with conspiring to bribe Nigerian officials to reduce taxes paid by their workers in Nigeria. They are accused of having paid a total of £180,000 in bribes in 2008 and 2009 to agents of the Rivers State Board of Internal Revenue and the Lagos State Board of Internal Revenue in order to avoid, reduce or delay paying taxes on behalf of the oil and gas industry contractors whom Swift had placed in Nigeria. A number of similar charges have been made against US companies in recent times. However, it appears that there have been no instances of the Nigerian officials who were alleged to have taken bribes being charged with any offences in Nigeria.
In May 2013 James Ibori, governor of Delta State between 1999 and 2007, lost his appeal against a 13-year prison sentence for embezzling £50 million from the Delta State treasury. He pleaded guilty to the charges, but sought a reduction in sentence. The dismissal of the appeal opened the way for hearings seeking the confiscation of assets worth close to £90 million ($145.7 million). These hearings commenced in mid-September 2013 and, after three weeks, the judge was quoted by Reuters as saying that in order to make an informed ruling, he needed a better understanding of the evidence underlying the case. He therefore directed that the hearings should recommence at some future – as yet undetermined – date in 2014.
The prosecution appeared to have relied on Ibori's guilty plea as proof that the assets sought to be confiscated were the proceeds of corruption during his period in office, and may have been surprised by the tenacity with which his defence team argued that the guilty pleas did not eliminate the need for the prosecution to prove that the assets were indeed the proceeds of the crimes to which he had pleaded guilty. The Nigerian media has suggested that this was a let-off, giving the prosecution an opportunity to regroup and return with a much stronger case.
Nigerians have been wondering what benefits might accrue to Nigeria and Delta State were any assets to be confiscated by the United Kingdom. Will the United Kingdom retain whatever is ordered to be confiscated or will any of those assets be returned to Nigeria? Nigerians have already been entertained by claims made by the Delta State government (the current governor is a relative of Ibori), stating that it is entitled to the $15 million that Ibori is alleged to have had delivered – in $100 bills – to the former head of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission as a bribe. The money was received and deposited in the Central Bank of Nigeria. The federal government sought a court order forfeiting the cash; Delta State's claim to the cash was one of a number of such claims submitted to the court hearing the case. The court dismissed Delta State's (and other) claims and forfeited the money to the federal government.
Farouk Lawan, a member of the House of Representatives and chair of a parliamentary inquiry into a fuel subsidy scam that allegedly cost the country $6.8 billion (£4.2 billion), was finally charged for receiving $500,000 as a bribe from an oil tycoon to drop his company from the investigation list in February 2013, almost a year after he was reportedly filmed receiving the cash as part of a sting operation undertaken by the State Security Service. His application to quash the charges failed in May 2013, but he has continued his efforts to evade trial by appealing the decision. His application to stay the trial pending appeal was dismissed in the High Court, but another application for stay has been made to the Court of Appeal; while that is pending, the trial court is unable to proceed. Doubtless, if the application to the Court of Appeal fails, another will be made to the Supreme Court, which will further delay the trial. Presently, the Supreme Court is hearing appeals that were lodged as far back as 2006, so the prospects of an early resolution of this case do not appear to be particularly bright.
For further information on this topic please contact Babajide Oladipo Ogundipe at Sofunde Osakwe Ogundipe & Belgore by telephone (+234 1 462 2502), fax (+234 1 462 2501) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org). The Sofunde Osakwe Ogundipe & Belgore website can be accessed at www.sooblaw.com.
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