A twist occurred yesterday in the disputed sum of $15 million (about N4.6 billion) which former Delta State governor, Chief James Ibori allegedly offered as bribe to former chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Nuhu Ribadu.
Speaking through his counsel, Ivan Krolick, in a British court yesterday, Ibori said the allegation that he offered $15 million dollars bribe money to Ribadu to get clearance certificate for corruption was a fabrication and a set-up.
Ibori’s lawyer, after almost three hours of cross examining Nuhu Ribadu in court 14, Southwark Crown Court, told the court that Ibori never offered the bribe money and was never present in Andy Ubah’s house where the money was handed over in Abuja to Ribadu and EFCC operatives.
According to Krolick, no money was given. Everything is fabricated. The money here is government money used to set Ibori up, and it was returned to CBN, government bank.
In the second day of court proceedings, Ribadu took the stand as witness to be cross examined by Ibori’s lawyer. In a tortuous questioning process, Ibori’ s counsel sought to exonerate Ibori from the allegation of offering 15 million US dollars bribe money to EFCC.
He sought to punch holes in Ribadu’s testimony and create doubts about the investigations surrounding Ibori’s corruption.
He however met his match in Ribadu, who insisted that bribe money was offered and the EFCC performed above board. He provided graphic details of the cat and mouse game between the agency and Ibori and how the bribe money collection was staged. The state prosecutor later stood up to ask the court to request Ibori’s counsel to tell the open court what his point was in asking repeated questions about the bribe money and the place and time of its collection. Ivan Krolick said the whole thing was a set up against his client.
Ribadu revealed that Ibori was very persistent in asking for the termination of the case against him and demanding for a clearance certificate.
Ribadu said he was making the sacrifice to go back to London to undergo hours of testimony because he wanted the money stolen by Ibori to be returned to Nigeria, especially to the people of Delta State who were robbed.
Meanwhile, the much awaited judgment in the case over who should take custody of the disputed $15 million (N4.6 billion) former Delta State governor, James Ibori’s alleged bribe money was aborted yesterday owing to the absence of Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Federal High Court, Abuja.
The dispute over who should keep the money is between the Federal Government and the Delta State Government. The money was allegedly offered as bribe to former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) by former Delta State Governor, James Ibori, to avert his investigation by the EFCC.
Justice Kolawole had at the last date adjourned to yesterday for judgment. But when the parties got to court yesterday, they were told that the judge was not available and that the judgment was not ready. No new date has been fixed.
On July 10 this year, when the parties adopted their final written addresses, the FG advised the court against handing to Delta State the disputed money, which it said that Delta State had denied was stolen from its treasury by Ibori to bribe officials of the EFCC.
The Federal Government reminded the court that Delta State had in 2007 sued it and the EFCC and denied losing any money when it first became public that Ibori had taken such huge amount from the state’s treasury to bribe Ribadu.
It urged the court to order that the money be forfeited to the Federal Government because Delta State has failed to prove beyond doubt that the money came from its treasury.
The Federal Government had last year applied to the court for an order of forfeiture and to direct the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), where Ribadu had lodged the bribe money he refused, to release it to the government should no one show up to claim it.
On hearing about the FG’s application, the Delta State Government later intervened,, claiming ownership of the money.
It is Delta State’s contention that Ibori, being its governor when the bribe money was offered, must have taken the money from the state’s coffers.
While adopting the FG’s address, Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) argued that the law empowers the court to order the forfeiture of such abandoned money to the Federal Government with or without the conviction of anybody.
He contended that it was too late for Delta to change its earlier position, having earlier sued the FG and EFCC and stated in an affidavit that no money was lost or removed from any of its accounts under James Ibori.
He noted that the state had equally claimed then that Ibori was just being harassed and intimidated by the EFCC.
“That deposition in 2007 that no money was lost in the account of Delta and the fact that Delta has not filed any case of stealing against Ibori, was a clear indication that the money did not belong to the state,” he argued.
Jacobs, who drew the court’s attention to the N100 million paid twice to Ibori in 2008 and 2010 by Delta State, stated that in view of his influence in the state, the $15 million would equally be handed to Ibori should the court release it to the state.
He argued that the affidavit deposed to by some EFCC officials, linking the money to Ibori and on which Delta had relied in its claim, was just a mere deposition that could not help the case of Delta State.
“Up till this moment, Delta has not placed before this court, an account of the state where Ibori withdrew or removed the money to prove its claim of ownership to the money,” he said.
Jacobs prayed the court to order that the money be paid into the Consolidated Revenue Account of the country for the benefit of all Nigerians and to dismiss Delta’s case for being baseless.
Arguing his state’s case earlier, Delta’s Attorney General, Charles Ajuyah (SAN) prayed the court to hand the money to Delta.
He relied on the affidavits sworn to by some top officials of EFCC to the effect that the money was offered the agency by Ibori while he was the governor of the state.
Citing one of such affidavits deposed to by Ibrahim Lamode (now EFCC chairman), Ajuyah contended that the affidavit evidence has proved beyond doubt that the money belonged to Delta.
He drew the court’s attention to a statement by former aide on Domestic Affairs to ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, Andy Uba (now a Senator) where he (Ubah) claimed that his residence in Asokoro was used by Ibori to channel the money to EFCC, who later took the money to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for safekeeping.
Ajuyah said that so far, no individual, group or organisation has laid claim to the money besides Delta State. He added that all documents in possession of EFCC and in the court indicated that the money came through Ibori.
He said that Delta State could not come out to claim the money since 2007 because of the various cases against Ibori and the fact that the money could be used as evidence in court.
“Delta State came out at the appropriate time to claim the money because the cases against Ibori had been effectively completed.
He added that the decision by his state to come forward for the money now was informed by the request, in July last year, by the Federal Government and EFCC (through newspaper publications) that anyone interested in the money should come forward.