UK to return £4.2m to Nigeria as funds stolen governor, James Ibori

The UK will return £4.2m of Nigerian government funds stolen a governor from the oil-rich Delta state who served a jail term in London for fraud – in the first such deal between the two countries.

The money was stolen James Ibori and his associates. He was jailed in 2012 for fraud amounting to nearly £50m after a drawn-out extradition procedure and his evasion of arrest and prosecution in Nigeria. A failed appeal in 2018 cleared the way for a seizure of his UK assets.

Billions of pounds worth of Nigerian government funds have been taken out of the country and laundered in countries like the UK, where Nigerian elites have built extensive property portfolios and assets.

The UK government has faced criticism for not doing enough to prevent foreign officials acquiring property and assets in UK jurisdictions.

Nigeria’s justice minister signed an agreement on Tuesday with the UK high commissioner in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, to return the recovered funds. Nigeria said they would be used on key infrastructure and building works.

The UK’s Africa minister, James Duddridge, hailed the move. “When money is stolen from public funds it hits the poorest communities the hardest and means money can’t be spent where it’s most needed,” he said.

Home Office minister Susan Williams described the deal as “a significant moment in our fight against illicit finance wherever it is found”.

The agreement follows a memorandum of understanding signed between Nigeria and the UK, its former colonial power, in 2016, which aimed to return the seized proceeds of bribery or corruption within a framework that commits Nigeria to transparent use of the returned funds.

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Ibori, who was once a cashier at UK DIY stores, stole public funds to buy luxury properties and cars and a private jet. He served four years of a 13-year jail term, which anti-corruption campaigners hailed as a rare victory in the fight against international graft.

Kwame Anane

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