Saturday, July 23, 2011
Ibori: UK Court Adjourns Till September As Supporters and Critics Battle Outside Courthouse
Today’s court session was part of preliminary hearings before the trial of the former Delta State governor who presided over massive looting of public funds in the eight years of his rule.
A group of pro-Ibori supporters squared up against another group whose members chanted "Ibori barawo!" (Ibori thief!) outside the court building.
Mr. Ibori was not present at court today. But at a hearing packed with supporters, critics, and curious London-based Nigerians, Crown Prosecutor Sasha Wass said the Crown Prosecution Service had reduced the number of charges to be brought against Mr. Ibori.
At a previous hearing, the prosecution had indicated that they would slap Mr. Ibori with 24 charges related to money laundering. The number will now be reduced to 14. Judge Geoffrey Rivlin had earlier expressed concern at the number of charges. "To divide the charges into two, to have two trials, would be frankly unmanageable," Ms Wass said in court.
Mr. Ibori will now be tried alongside another defendant, Mr. Elias Preko, a Ghanaian born former financial adviser and Goldman Sachs employee who allegedly set up off-shore accounts to enable the former governor to purchase a Bombardier jet, the court heard.
Mr. Preko had sought a separate trial, but after the ruling today, his legal representative told the court he needed more time to prepare his client’s case.
The court has set September 5 as the next date to hear the defendants' representatives outline their cases. A new trial judge, Anthony Pitts, is expected to take over the case then.
Mr Ibori remains in custody, and will be at the next hearing in September, the court heard.
Prosecutors told the court they want to see the trial begin in early November.
The exchanges inside the courtroom were far tamer than the drama outside as supporters sponsored by the Delta state government clashed with anti-Ibori demonstrators in a shouting match. Members of the pro-Ibori group said they were angry at the imprisonment of the former governor. Some of them waved placards saying "Free Father Ibori". But most of them were reluctant to have their pictures taken, using placards to hide their faces from cameras.
We don't believe that James Ibori will get a fair hearing in England. His enemies in the Nigerian government are driving this spurious prosecution,” said Richmond Macgrey, a British-based Nigerian who has lived in Delta State said.
If Ibori was a British citizen on trial in Nigeria the government would pick him and take him home. That's what should happen here," said Majemite Faith, another supporter from Delta State.
However, Lauretta Onochia, a spokeswoman for the pro-prosecution demonstrators, held a placard saying, "Thank you UK". Mr. Ibori’s prosecution in the UK “is a lesson to Nigeria," she said. Emmanuel Ohai, who said he had flown in to London from Atlanta just for the hearing, said: "James Ibori bought himself justice in Nigeria, and we have come to see how the UK has dealt with the issue".
The pair said they represented a group of Anioma people from Delta State. "We have been marginalized by Ibori and his cronies," Ms Onochia said.
Several of Mr. Ibori’s associates have already been convicted and are serving jail terms of between five and seven years for their role in aiding and abetting his extensive money laundering activities. The convicts include his former mistress, Udoamaka Okoronkwo (nee Onuigbo), sister, Christine Ibori-Ibie, and wife Theresa Nkoyo Ibori. Also serving time for his role in Mr. Ibori’s reckless looting of state funds is his former London-based lawyer, Bhadresh Gohil.
Posted by Nigeria News at 1:04 AM