x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Ibori supporters' threat over UK extradition

Supporters of Nigerian vice presidential candidate James Onanefe Ibori have threatened to cut off three-quarters of the country's oil production after a Dubai court agreed to extradite him to the UK on money laundering charges.

DUBAI // A Dubai court's decision to extradite the Nigerian vice presidential candidate James Onanefe Ibori to the United Kingdom on money laundering charges has angered his clan, who have threatened to cut off three-quarters of the country's oil production.

The order, issued yesterday by the Dubai Court of Cassation, said Mr Ibori would be handed over to the Metropolitan Police in London. Interpol had issued a notice requesting his arrest.

Mr Ibori was detained in May and his extradition to the UK was ordered on October 17. Two lower court decisions have also upheld the extradition.

According to the British government, millions of dollars were embezzled in Nigeria during Mr Ibori's term as governor of Delta State, between 1999 and 2007. However, he was acquitted of 170 counts of fraud by a federal court in Nigeria last year.

The Urhobo Youth Leaders Association (UYLA), the official representative group of Mr Ibori's 14 million-member clan, the Urhobo, reacted to the news with anger. His supporters - and his court defence - have said the charges against him are purely political.

"After an emergency meeting by the heads of the UYLA, we have decided to cut off oil production in the Delta State," Vincent Oyibide, a UYLA spokesman, said. "If the UK government insists on taking James Ibori, we will shut the oil production and we have mobilised our members to leave the oil fields. Most of the Nigerian oil facilities are in our land and we will stop the flow of oil and the oil pipelines will be vandalised."

Oil production in the state, more than one million barrels per day, accounts for about 75 per cent of Nigeria's export earnings.

Mr Oyibide said the UYLA would give 60 days for the court order to be withdrawn before cutting production.

Mr Ibori's lawyers, Ali Musabah and Mansour Lootah, said in Dubai yesterday they would file a final appeal to the UAE Ministry of Justice.

"The request order came to the Ministry of Justice from the British government. The authorities with the final call are the Ministries of Justice and Interior. We will be filing a request to stop the extradition, where we will explain our reasoning behind it," Mr Musabah said.

A representative for the British Consulate in Dubai yesterday said it had not yet been officially notified of the court's decision.

Mr Ibori's case comes under UK jurisdiction because the money he is alleged to have stolen was laundered through banks based in Britain.

His wife, Theresa Ibori, was sentenced to five years for money laundering last month after a trial at Southwark Crown Court in London.

His British-based lawyer, Bhadresh Gohil, is awaiting sentencing after being found guilty of similar charges while the former governor's sister, Christine Ibori-Ibie, and his mistress, Udoamaka Okoronkwo-Onuigbo, were jailed after earlier trials.

According to the extradition request, one of the methods he usedwas awarding contracts for completed projects to his close associates for large sums of money.

British authorities also say Mr Ibori sold Delta State shares in the telecoms operator V Mobile to a fraudulent firm, which funnelled the money back to him and his associates.

Throughout his political career, Mr Ibori has been one of the most vocal advocates for the nationalisation of Nigeria's natural resources, calling for a reduction of foreign influence. In October, he announced his candidacy in the Nigerian presidential elections.

The British government says the UK is the safest place to try Mr Ibori because of the probability of further civil unrest in Nigeria were he to return there.

"He still retains considerable support in his homeland, including among members of the armed forces and police," said a British government source yesterday. "London is regarded as the safe place to try him. There will be no question of his getting a fair trial here, which he might not get in Nigeria.

"Additionally, the extradition process between the UK and UAE is a straightforward one."

 

amustafa@thenational.ae

 

* David Sapstead reported from London