Today a London court ordered the confiscation of £101.5 million from high-profile Nigerian politician James Ibori who laundered his corrupt loot into the UK with the help of close associates.
More than a decade ago, the former governor of the oil-rich Delta state was convicted in the UK of money laundering and conspiracy to defraud the Nigerian state and its people. Siphoning stolen funds through a network of corporate structures, Ibori splashed out on high-end London properties, luxury cars, and elite private schooling for his children in Britain.
The long road to recovering the corrupt proceeds
When UK law enforcement took bold action against Ibori and those connected to him, it sent a strong signal that Britain won’t tolerate impunity for corruption or harbour its proceeds. But years of disruption and delay in recovering these stolen assets means this message has rung hollow for the Nigerian people.
£17 million worth of Ibori’s assets were first frozen in 2007, but the confiscation process suffered a false start and then stalled due to successive appeals by Ibori that were finally exhausted in 2019. Ibori meanwhile returned to Nigeria and resumed political activity having spent seven years in a UK prison.
The confiscation process only resumed in 2020, yet today’s decision itself has taken an inexplicably long time to reach. More than three years have passed since Ibori’s confiscation hearing ended. This speaks to just how difficult it is to confiscate corrupt assets in the UK, which is why it is so important that lessons are learned from the extraordinary delay in this case.
The need for a speedy return of stolen assets to victims
So far, only £4.2 million – just 2.7% of the total amount of the Ibori loot targeted by UK prosecutors – has actually been returned to Nigeria. This return in March 2021 was the first of its kind under a Memorandum of Understanding agreed between the UK and Nigerian governments at the London Anti-Corruption Summit in 2016. It also came shortly after the UK released its ground-breaking Framework for Transparency and Accountable Asset Return in January 2021.
But today’s sizeable confiscation poses the first major test for the new Framework, which commits to returning funds “within the shortest reasonable timeframe”. Given it’s taken more than a decade to get to this point, the UK government should now do everything it can to smooth the way for the prompt, transparent and accountable return of the Ibori loot to the victims of his corruption in the Delta state.
Dr Helen Taylor, Senior Legal Researcher at Spotlight on Corruption, said:
“After more than a decade of delay, it’s hugely welcome to see this substantial confiscation order finalised in legal ink. But the long and tortuous road to reach this point shows just how tough it is to recover the proceeds of corruption in the UK. To ensure justice delayed doesn’t mean justice denied for the Nigerian people, it’s essential that the UK now makes every effort to ensure the speedy return of this stolen loot to benefit the victims of Ibori’s corruption in the Delta state.”