|James Onanefe Ibori|
His rise from DIY store worker to international playboy with a £250 million fortune is the stuff of dreams.
A few years after quitting his £5,000-a-year job as a cashier for Wickes, James Ibori had become one of Nigeria’s most influential and richest politicians.
He wasted no time spending his new-found wealth on luxury homes, top-of-the-range cars, five-star travel and fees at exclusive boarding schools.
But yesterday the 49-year-old stood shame-faced in the dock of London’s Southwark Court as he admitted stealing tens of millions of pounds from the oil-rich state he governed in Nigeria. Scotland Yard detectives believe his fraud could exceed £250million.
He was on trial in the UK because much of the stolen money was laundered through his London office.
Ibori moved from Nigeria to West London in the late 1980s and was found guilty of stealing goods from the Wickes store he worked at in Ruislip in 1990.
A year later he was convicted of handling a stolen credit card. He moved back to Nigeria and worked for its president, Sani Abacha, as a policy consultant.
Rising quickly through the ranks of the ruling People’s Democratic Party, he was voted governor of Delta State in 1999, winning re-election four years later.
In power, he systematically stole from the public purse, taking kickbacks and transferring state funds to his own bank accounts around the world.
He was helped by family members, including his wife Theresa, sister Christine Ibori-Ibie, his mistress Udoamaka Oniugbo, and Mayfair lawyer Bhadresh Gohil.
A massive police investigation into Ibori’s activities revealed he had bought six properties in London, including a six-bedroom house with indoor pool in Hampstead for £2.2million and a flat opposite the nearby Abbey Road recording studios.
There was also a property in Dorset, a £3.2million mansion in South Africa and further real estate in Nigeria.
He owned a fleet of armoured Range Rovers costing £600,000 and a £120,000 Bentley. On one of his trips to London he bought a Mercedes Maybach for more than £300,000 at a dealer on Park Lane and immediately shipped it to South Africa.
He bought a private jet for £12 million, spent £126,000 a month on his credit cards and ran up a £15,000 bill for a two-day stay at the Lanesborough hotel in London.
Prosecutor Sasha Wass told the court Ibori concealed his UK criminal record, which would have excluded him from office in Nigeria.
“He was never the legitimate governor and there was effectively a thief in government house,” Miss Wass said. “As the pretender of that public office, he was able to plunder Delta State’s wealth and hand out patronage.”
The court heard Ibori abused his position to award contracts to his associates including his sister and his mistress.
Scotland Yard began its investigation into Ibori after officers found two computer hard drives in his London office that revealed his criminality.
He was arrested by the Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in December 2007, but two years later a court in his home town, Asaba, dismissed the charges saying there was not enough evidence.
When the case was reopened by Nigerian authorities in April 2010, Ibori fled to Dubai where he was detained at the request of the Metropolitan Police and extradited to the UK last April.
In a packed courtroom Ibori, dressed in a dark grey suit and black shirt, appeared in the dock to enter ten guilty pleas to fraud, money laundering and conspiracy on what was due to be the first day of a 12-week trial.
His wife, his mistress and his sister were all jailed for five years each for money laundering offences following earlier trials.
Last March, Gohil, 46, and described as Ibori’s London-based lawyer, was jailed for seven years for his role in the scam.
Attempts will be made to confiscate as much of Ibori’s money and assets as possible so that they can be returned to Nigeria.
The Met’s Detective Inspector Paul Whatmore said: “It is always rewarding for anyone working on a proceeds of corruption case to know that the stolen funds they identify will eventually be returned to some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world.”
Ibori will be sentenced on April 16 and 17.