Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Jailed Nigerian ex-governor said owned 30 percent of Oando - prosecutor

By Estelle Shirbon
London, September 17, 2013

(Reuters) - Jailed former Nigerian oil state governor James Ibori told a Swiss private bank in 2004 that he owned 30 percent of oil firm Oando (OANDO.LG), which paid $1.2 million into his account that year, a prosecutor told a British court on Tuesday.

The court also heard that PKB Privatbank had in an internal document likened Ibori, who governed oil-producing 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.

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.

One of the biggest embezzlement cases seen in Britain, Ibori's is also a rare example of a senior Nigerian politician being held to account for the corruption that has held back Africa's most populous nation and top oil producer.

Prosecutor Sasha Wass told Southwark Crown Court on Tuesday 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 percent of Oando.

She said that a total of $1.2 million flowed into the PKB account from Oando in three payments that year which had later been channelled to other accounts and were part of funds intended for the purchase of a $20 million private jet.

Shares in Oando, Nigeria's biggest home-grown oil company, fell by 10 percent in Lagos on Tuesday following the first allegation by Wass on Monday that Ibori had hidden assets in the firm.

Oando said on Monday that Ibori had only an "insignificant" holding in the firm and also said it had sold $2.7 million of its foreign exchange earnings for naira in 2004 to a company that had later turned out to be controlled by Ibori, but it did not know that at the time.

Wass told the court on Tuesday 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 COFK.LU did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In the early 1990s Ibori worked as a cashier at Wickes, a home improvement chainstore 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.

($1 = 0.6288 British pounds)

(Editing by Mike Collett-White)

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