It would seem self-evident that London and the UK is the world centre for laundering ill-gotten gains – house prices in London didn’t reach their current stratospheric heights as a result of decent honest businessmen competing to house their children near to their ‘reasonably’ well paid work. Houses in London have become a commodity, a financial vehicle, not just a home. As a Rembrandt is not just a pretty picture, nor a diamond a mere glittery bauble.
Back in 1990, James Ibori was a humble cashier at Wickes DIY store in Ruislip. He repaid his salary of 300 quid a week by stealing from the store. The following year he was convicted of handling a stolen credit card. Either of these offences would have been sufficient to ruin his political ambitions in his homeland of Nigeria.
He knew a man who could help….Thus he acquired a passport in another name, with a different birthdate – which improbably made him younger than his, er, younger sister!
He returned to Nigeria and began to shin up the political greasy pole. Within 9 years he had become Governor of the oil rich Delta State – and was able to dip his hand into tills deeper than the deepest ‘Wickes’ till. Estimates range from 150 million to 200 million as the amount he withdrew for his own use.
Within a short space of time, the former Wickes cashier had acquired a £2.2m Hampstead home, a Dorset country home, a £3.2m Johannesburg mansion, and a fleet of armoured vehicles, including a Bentley. He was first arrested as a result of charges brought in 2007, by officials of the previous President of Nigeria. At the time, the High Court froze assets worth £35million – astounding given his official Governor’s salary of around £4,000 a year.
By 2009, he had been cleared of all 156 charges – despite the fact that he had bribed the Nigerian ‘anti-corruption’ czar with $15M in cash – a sum which still sits forlornly in the Central Bank of Nigeria!
He fled to Dubai where he was arrested by the UK Metropolitan Police whilst trying to buy a $20million jet! You may wonder why the Met Police were involved – at the time it was said to be in light of the properties he had purchased in England with the proceeds of Nigerian ‘state assets’.
At the time, ‘Newsnight’ alleged that the ‘CDC Group‘, the Department for International Development’s private enterprise arm, had put £29.9m into a private equity fund, which had invested in Nigerian companies allegedly linked to Ibori. CDC had investigated ‘at the time’ and found no evidence of misuse of funds originating from the DFID – which leaves more questions than answers. Why are the DFID funding the investigation by the Met Police if it was not British taxpayers money being misused?
Fast forward a few years, and in April 2012, Ibori was finally jailed in London for 13 years. Feelings were running high, and during the proceedings, Sasha Wass QC, better known for her prosecution of Rolf Harris was thrown to the floor by a mob of supporters of Ibori. Along with Ibori, his sister, his wife and his mistress, were also jailed – plus his solicitor, Bhadresh Babulal Gohil
In October 2012, Gohil was struck off the Solicitor’s Roll. This was nowhere near the end of Mr Gohil’s troubles.
In 2004 he and his wife had divorced. She had apparently received £270,000 and the family car. Now armed with evidence from the Ibori trial of all this property, apparently registered in the name of her ex-husband, she returned to the Family courts and asked to have her divorce financial settlement re-opened!
On behalf of Parabola he opened two brokerage accounts with Merrill Lynch in 2000. The brokerage accounts had over $1m dollars in them between 2002-2007. This, says his former wife, shows that Mr Gohil was worth considerably more than he stated at the time of the divorce in 2002.
US Court documents show that:
“In addition to Teleton Quays, Gohil helped Governor Ibori use Parabola International Corp. (“Parabola”), a company Gohil formed in Mauritius, to launder his criminal proceeds. Governor Ibori and Gohil funnelled money from MER into various accounts in Switzerland held in the name of Parabola. As explained above, MER received substantial revenue from oil companies operating in Nigeria.”
Either the money belonged to Ibori, in which case Gohil was guilty of money laundering even before the ‘2005′ starting date for his conviction – or it was his money which he had hidden from his ex-wife! The court allowed her appeal to re-open the case. Gohil appealed against that decision. He won. Mrs Gohil appealed against that decision. She won. Theoretically, Mrs Gohil can now apply for a share of Mr Gohil’s funds that were revealed to be an act of money laundering on behalf of Mr Ibori – pick the bones out of that!
Not if the DFID gets to the money first, is my reading.
The case to hear whether Ibori’s assets can be seized has been put back to June 16th – 2016…..
By the November of 2012, Gohil had mounted an appeal against his 10 year sentence.
Gohil was, prior to conviction, the head of the Commercial department and the anti-money laundering officer for the firm of Arlingtons Sharmas Solicitors. This is no back-street firm of dodgy solicitors – the senior partner, Vijay Sharma, who Mr Gohil alleges, ‘principally handled the funds in question’, as he was in control of the firm’s banking and finances throughout the period, is married to Baroness Usha Prashar.
Vijay Sharma was also the key prosecution witness and would have been able to confirm that the firm had complied with the compliance requirements and procedures. However, surprisingly, Vijay Sharma at the last minute was withdrawn as a key witness on the basis that he would not be a witness of truth.
City of London lawyers, Speechly Bircham were appointed by Ibori to represent his interests and to deal with the UK investigations. Speechly Bircham in turn appointed the Private Detective Agency – RISC Management Limited to provide litigation support. RISC were privy to the entire Ibori/Gohil defence case which was clearly legally privileged.
Gohil alleged in his 2012 appeal hearing that leaked documents showed that RISC had bribed serving officers with up to £20,000 to leak sensitive information from the ongoing criminal investigation into Ibori. The implication of this would be that Gohil was convicted as a result of information corruptly obtained. The Met Police arrested two senior RISC employees, both former Met officers, on suspicion of bribing a police officer. They also arrested the two currently serving senior officers leading the case, DI Gary Walters and DC John McDonald.
Fundamentally at the heart of the case is the fact that the police conceded during the trial that the funds Arlingtons Sharmas Solicitors handled had all emanated from recognised British banks that had actually undertaken their own due diligence and did not create any suspicion. The banks told Arlingtons Sharmas this and had cleared the funds for Ibori’s subsequent use.
By July 2014, the Met Police had retaliated by charging Gohil and Cliff Knuckey, the ex-Met officer now heading RISC, with ‘producing and distributing false allegations that police officers had received corrupt payments from a firm of private detectives’. Just as an aside, Knuckey/RISC is also allegedly the erstwhile employer of Alexander Litvinenko, the ‘poisoned’ former Russian Spy, and has acted for the Candy brothers, multi-million pound London property developers.
The two men were charged with preparing, distributing and faking documents that purported to show many thousands of pounds in corrupt payments to serving Metropolitan police officers. The case should have been heard last August.
Late last Thursday, the CPS suddenly announced that they were no longer prosecuting Gohil and Knuckey for ‘falsely alleging corruption’ at the heart of the Metropolitan Police….
They haven’t said why, beyond ‘in the light of new information‘.
Watch this space – and wonder at the taxpayers funds spent chasing the result of Nigerian corruption.