NAIROBI, Kenya – The name James Ibori may not mean much to most people, but to Nigerians or those who have worked in or on the country his admission of guilt in a money laundering trial in London today is a huge blow to the super-rich, super-corrupt power brokers who have kept most Nigerians mired in poverty and made their nation a byword for corruption.
Ibori was once governor of the oil-producing Delta State. His election to the post was dubious and couched in violence. Once there he stole hundreds of millions of dollars and laundered it through London, according to British police who say he stole $400 million during his four year tenure. Arriving at a court in London on Monday for the start of the corruption case Ibori unexpectedly changed his plea to guilty on 10 counts of money laundering and fraud.
Employing a Fela Kuti style inflection the prosecutor described Ibori as "a thief in government house."
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Anti-corruption activists and prosecutors have been after Ibori for years. Ibori successfully pressured then-president Umaru Yar'Adua to sack the energetic head of Nigeria's anti-corruption commission when he tried to bring charges against him. In 2007 the UK froze assets worth $35 million somehow accrued while he earned an official salary as governor of just $25,000 a year.
In a statement issued earlier today Britain's overseas aid agency, the Department for International Development, said the stolen money would
be returned to poor Nigerians. It said, "Ibori, former governor of Nigeria’s Delta State, lived a life of luxury after he embezzled what the Met estimates to be $250 million of Nigerian public funds — equal to $60 from every person living in the state at the time of his crimes."
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