Nigerian politician offered to create trust fund with stolen wealth

In the summer of 2007, a "U.S. businessman and reputed lobbyist" approached American diplomats in Nigeria with a message from James Ibori, a Nigerian state governor. Ibori, the source said, wanted to "make a deal," according to a diplomatic cable released to the Nigerian newspaper Next on March 11: He’d create a foundation with a ...

By , International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.

In the summer of 2007, a "U.S. businessman and reputed lobbyist" approached American diplomats in Nigeria with a message from James Ibori, a Nigerian state governor. Ibori, the source said, wanted to "make a deal," according to a diplomatic cable released to the Nigerian newspaper Next on March 11: He'd create a foundation with a percentage of his probably ill-gotten wealth if foreign authorities promised not to prosecute him:

former Delta State Governor Ibori would like to establish a development trust fund for Nigeria, endowed with 20 to 50 percent of funds he "acquired" over the years, in return for promises by foreign governments not to prosecute him. This contact estimated Ibori's "acquired" earnings at some three billion U.S. dollars. As part of Ibori's proposal, an international board of directors would oversee trust fund spending, with five persons selected by the international community, including the United States and United Kingdom, and the remaining four chosen by Nigeria. The Ibori-proposed trust fund would support development projects for electricity generation, potable water supply, and police reform. Ibori would also undertake to convince other former governors currently under investigation to follow suit, and return billions of dollars in stolen money in exchange for agreements not to prosecute them.

There are few more storied politicians in Nigeria than the former Delta State governor, James Ibori, believed to be one of the country's most corrupt -- and hence, richest -- men. For years, he has operated in the upper power-echelons of the country's ruling People's Democratic Party, playing godfather to countless lower-level politicians and governors. But then in 2007, his luck started to run out. The British government started investigating him for corruption, and in a move that shocked everyone (including Ibori), the Nigerian government's anti-corruption body arrested him for graft in December 2007. (Within days, the top-corruption fighter who had issued the warrant, Nuhu Ribadu, had been sacked. Conspiracy theories -- suggesting that Ibori and his cronies had somehow exacted political revenge -- ensued.)

In the summer of 2007, a "U.S. businessman and reputed lobbyist" approached American diplomats in Nigeria with a message from James Ibori, a Nigerian state governor. Ibori, the source said, wanted to "make a deal," according to a diplomatic cable released to the Nigerian newspaper Next on March 11: He’d create a foundation with a percentage of his probably ill-gotten wealth if foreign authorities promised not to prosecute him:

former Delta State Governor Ibori would like to establish a development trust fund for Nigeria, endowed with 20 to 50 percent of funds he "acquired" over the years, in return for promises by foreign governments not to prosecute him. This contact estimated Ibori’s "acquired" earnings at some three billion U.S. dollars. As part of Ibori’s proposal, an international board of directors would oversee trust fund spending, with five persons selected by the international community, including the United States and United Kingdom, and the remaining four chosen by Nigeria. The Ibori-proposed trust fund would support development projects for electricity generation, potable water supply, and police reform. Ibori would also undertake to convince other former governors currently under investigation to follow suit, and return billions of dollars in stolen money in exchange for agreements not to prosecute them.

There are few more storied politicians in Nigeria than the former Delta State governor, James Ibori, believed to be one of the country’s most corrupt — and hence, richest — men. For years, he has operated in the upper power-echelons of the country’s ruling People’s Democratic Party, playing godfather to countless lower-level politicians and governors. But then in 2007, his luck started to run out. The British government started investigating him for corruption, and in a move that shocked everyone (including Ibori), the Nigerian government’s anti-corruption body arrested him for graft in December 2007. (Within days, the top-corruption fighter who had issued the warrant, Nuhu Ribadu, had been sacked. Conspiracy theories — suggesting that Ibori and his cronies had somehow exacted political revenge — ensued.)

It’s hard to say if the source quoted in the 2007 cable is for real. But the story he tells about Ibori certainly fits with the common urban mythology of the man. The lobbyist describes Ibori as the most powerful person in the ruling party — the real power behind then-President Umaru Yar’Adua. It’s widely believed, for example, that Ibori was allowed to appoint several of the ministers in the Nigerian president’s cabinet in exchange for his support, financial and otherwise.

Reminiscent of Equatorial Guinea’s president’s recent attempt to create a "prize" in his name — somehow legitimizing his wealth via philanthropy — Ibori’s deal would never have been laughed at in public, if it ever came to that. But it wouldn’t be the first time that Ibori, believing in the invincibility of his power, would make such a silly mistake: Before his indictment for corruption in Nigeria, he tried to bribe the corruption commission with $15 million in cash. Little did he realize, it was being caught on tape.

Elizabeth Dickinson is International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.

Tag: Africa

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