By Bode Gbadebo
The United Kingdom could return to Nigeria £4.2 million it recovered from former governor of Delta State, James Ibori, this week.
UK authorities had announced in early March that the money would be returned in a few weeks in what could be the first tranche of assets recovered from Ibori after he was convicted of money laundering in the UK in 2012.
It is the first time that proceeds of crime would be returned to Nigeria since a repatriation agreement was signed between Nigeria and the UK five years ago.
A top UK source who refused to be named told LEADERSHIP on Friday, “I’ve just had an update that the payment is in the system and should be concluded next week.” That was on April 2.
Asked if the expected sum could be more than the £4.2 million reported, the source said, “There are no new amounts to move at this stage. The transfer we’re waiting to see is of the assets already reported for return.”
On the certainty that the money will be transferred this week, the source said, “As far as I know, it will be. It’s a bank holiday in the UK. Although given the unpredictability of these processes, whilst I understand it will be this week, as the UK is not in total control of all the processes, I don’t think we can be absolutely certain until we get the clear confirmation.”
Even before the money arrives in Nigeria, it had already been enmeshed in controversy over how it will be spent. The federal government had announced that the money would be tied to certain infrastructure, including the Second Niger Bridge, the Abuja -Kano road and Lagos -Ibadan expressway.However, the Delta State government has laid claim to the money, saying the funds were removed from the state and should rightly be returned to the state.
The attorney general and minister of justice, Abubakar Salami, who announced the federal government’s plan for the fund, said the money belonged to the federal government.
He argued: “The money in its entirety is a function of law and international diplomacy…all the processes associated with the recovery were consummated by the federal government and the federal government is, indeed, the victim of crime and not sub-nation.”
However, many stakeholders have called on Abuja to hand the money to Delta State from where it was stolen as a matter of restitution in the same way the money recovered from former governors of Plateau and Bayelsa states were remitted to both states. Both the Delta State government and the House of Representatives have called on the federal government to let the state keep the money, but at the moment, there has been no agreement, leading to the possibility that the matter will end up in the courts.
Former Delta State governor James Ibori was arrested in Dubai by Interpol in 2010. He was tried and jailed in the UK on charges of money laundering in 2012. He was released in 2016 after serving half of his 13-year sentence and agreeing to forfeit £89million to the UK government and be deported to Nigeria.