Jailed former Delta State
governor, James Ibori used front men and shell companies to acquire a hidden stake in privatised Nigerian fertiliser company, Notore, a British police detective told a London court last Wednesday.
Detective Constable Peter Clark also said Ibori had bought two apartments in Washington in 2001 worth a total of $4.43 million, previously unknown assets to add to a list of six other Ibori properties in four countries worth $11 million.
The court was shown footage of one of the properties, a palatial residence in the Nigerian capital Abuja complete with marble columns, crystal chandeliers and a private gym.
Ibori, who governed oil-producing Delta State from 1999 to 2007, was jailed for 13 years in Britain, last year after pleading guilty to 10 counts of money-laundering and fraud in one of the biggest embezzlement cases seen in Britain.
He is the most senior politician to be held accountable for the corruption that blights Africa’s most populous nation, where majority have little or no power or running water.
A three-week confiscation hearing began at London’s Southwark Crown Court on Monday during which prosecutors will present evidence of Ibori’s assets and seek court orders to have them seized.
Clark, who has investigated Ibori’s finances since 2005, said the ex-governor was linked to Notore via a shell company incorporated in Mauritius and a circle of associates.
“It is my belief that James Ibori has some sort of hidden interest in the company Notore,” Clark said.
A spokesman for Notore, who was present in court on Wednesday, denied that Ibori had hidden assets in the firm.
“He does not own shares in the company and no other shareholder or shareholders hold shares for him in trust so far as the company is aware,” the spokesman told Reuters, asking not to be named.
Shares in Oando, Nigeria’s biggest home-grown energy firm, have fallen by 10 per cent for two days in a row after alleged links with Ibori, denied by Oando.
Notore, which is not listed, grew out of the state-owned fertiliser company NAFCON which went bust in 1999. As part of a privatisation programme, Notore took over NAFCON’s assets for $152 million in 2005, according to its website.
Clark told the court that police had seized five files labelled NAFCON that linked Ibori to Notore at the office of London lawyer Bhadresh Gohil, who is serving a 10-year jail term for his role in laundering Ibori’s millions.
Gohil had incorporated a company in Mauritius under the name Notore Chemical Industries Mauritius Ltd, which Clark said appeared to be a shell company that would own part of Notore, Clark said.
Gohil had written in 2005 to Jite Okoloko, now chief executive of Notore, asking him to “confirm your instructions” regarding NAFCON and giving bank coordinates for transfers.
Gohil also wrote a memo about a visit he made to Lagos in 2005 during which he took part in a meeting with Ibori, Okoloko and Henry Imasekha, who is named as a co-conspirator in one of the two British indictments against Ibori, Clark said.
Gohil’s memo said the men discussed how equity in Notore would be split between various shareholders. They put the value of the company once it would be up and running at $1.2 billion.
A separate diagram drawn up by Gohil was described by prosecutor Sasha Wass as a “route map for the ownership of Notore”. It suggested that more than half of the firm, a stake valued at $39.7 million, would go to Ibori, Okoloko and Imasekha.
Clark testified that a 3 per cent stake was allocated to Mike Orugbo, now a member of the Notore board.
“He was a front man used to purchase NAFCON from the Nigerian government. He obtained 3 per cent to do so,” Clark said.
Ibori, who is at a maximum security prison in central England, has not attended the court hearings.
Nigeria’s Revenue-To-GDP Ratio Lowest, Private Sector Choking – World Bank
Nigeria’s revenue-to-Gross Domestic Product ratio, which fell to between five and six per cent last year, is the lowest in the world, the World Bank said on Monday.
The Country Director for Nigeria, World Bank, Dr Shubham Chaudhuri, said this during a panel session at a virtual public sector seminar with the theme ‘Nigeria in challenging times: imperatives for a cohesive national development agenda’ organised by the Lagos Business School.
Chaudhuri, who stressed the need for private investment for the country to realise its potential, said the private sector in the country ‘is struggling to breathe’.
“In Nigeria, I think the basic economic agenda is about diversification away from oil because oil has really been like resource curse for Nigeria on multiple dimensions,” he said.
He noted the aspiration of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty by the end of the decade.
He said, “Nigeria is a country with tremendous potential. If you look at the synopsis for this panel, it suggests that Nigeria is at a critical juncture – almost at the moment of crisis.
“Despite all of that, Nigeria is still the largest economy in Africa. So, just think about the potential that Nigeria has because of its natural resources, but more than that, because of its dynamism and all of its population. Nigerians are more entrepreneurial by nature.
“No country has become prosperous and realised its potential, eliminated poverty without doing two simple things: investing in its people, and unleashing the power of the private sector in creating jobs by investing and growing business. And then, of course, the basic function of the state is to provide security and law and order.”
According to Chaudhuri, to invest in people entails basic services, basic education, primary healthcare and nutrition, among others.
He said, “On this, Nigeria at the moment ranks sixth from the bottom in terms of the human capital index that we produce every year.
“So, obviously, there is a huge agenda in terms of investing in human capital. Nigeria spends more on PMS (premium motor spirit) subsidy than it does on primary healthcare in a year, and we know who the PMS subsidy is benefitting.”
He indicated that despite the country’s huge potential to attract private capital, the non-oil part of the economy ‘is not growing that robustly and certainly not generating revenues that the government needs’.
Chaudhuri said, “So, we see as priorities investments in human capital. But for that, one needs revenues. And there again, Nigeria unfortunately has the distinction of having about the lowest revenue-to-GDP ratio in the world.
”The standard rule of thumb is that for government to provide the basic services and law and order, it needs between 15 to 20 per cent of GDP as being revenue, and this will be both at the federal and state levels combined.
“In Nigeria, it was eight per cent in 2019. In 2020, in the middle of the Covid-19 crisis and with the fall in oil prices, that went down to about between five and six per cent.
“So, domestic revenue mobilisation is huge. And then the third is enabling the space for private investment. You have to fix the power problem. Power is like the oxygen of an economy. In Nigeria, the private sector is struggling to breathe.”
CBN Stops Sale Of Forex To BDCs
The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) as announced immediate discontinuation of sale of Foreign Exchange (forex) to Bureau de Change (BDC) operators in the country.
Mr Godwin Emefiele, the CBN Governor , made this announcement yesterday, while presenting a communique from the apex bank’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) meeting in Abuja.
Emefiele said that the decision was informed by the unwholesome business practices of the BDCs, which he said had continued to put enormous pressure on the Naira.
He said , henceforth, the apex bank would sell forex to deserving Nigerians through the commercial banks.
“ The BDCs were regulated to sell a maximum of 5000 dollars per day, but CBN observed that they have since been flouting that regulation and selling millions of dollars per day.
“The CBN also observed that the BDCs aid illicit financial flows and other financial crimes. The bank has thus, decided to discontinue the sale of forex to the BDCs with immediate effect.
“We shall, henceforth, channel all forex allocation through the commercial banks,” he said.
He urged the commercial banks to ensure that every deserving customer got their forex demand, adding that any bank found circumventing the new system would be sanctioned.
“Once a customer presents all required documentation to purchase forex, the commercial banks should ensure they get the forex.
“Any customer that is denied should contact the CBN on 0700385526 or through the email- email@example.com “ he said.
The Tide source reports that stakeholders have been calling on the CBN and its MPC to take urgent steps to halt unending depreciation of the Naira.
Recently, a past President of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN), Mr Okechukwu Unegbu, urged the MPC to focus on policy decisions that would curb rising inflation and stabilise the Naira.
RSG To Privatise Songhai, Fish Farms
There are strong indications that the Rivers State Government has concluded plans to privatise the moribund Songhai Farm in Tai and Fish Farm in Buguma.
The State Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Amb. Desmond Akawor, gave this indication while appearing in a phone-in radio programme organised by Silverbird Communications in Port Harcourt at the weekend.
He explained that the previous administration in the state failed to put in place a sustainability programme for these farms, hence they went moribund.
In order to reverse the situation, he said that the present administration was now contemplating a rehabilitation scheme to be driven by a privatisation policy to enable those investments come on stream.
He said the scheme had reached an advanced stage and is to executed by the State Ministry of Agriculture.
On the issue of job creation, Akawor said the administration of Chief Nyesom Wike was using the various construction projects around the state to empower the youths.
He explained that the government had floated a special scholarship scheme in Law and Medical Sciences to create opportunities for young people in various professions.
He called on the opposition to desist from de-marketing the state through propaganda as it’s capable of scaring investors away from the state.
Akawor insisted that the Wike led administration has provided an enabling environment for businesses to thrive through infrastructure and improved security.
By: Kevin Nengia
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