James Ibori alleges police corruption and says ban on evidence ‘handicaps’ his case.
An embezzler who has alleged that police corruption rendered his conviction unsafe has claimed an appeal he has launched will not get a fair hearing, a court was told.
James Ibori was jailed for 13 years for stealing nearly £50m from the Nigerian government and using it to buy properties in the UK. The conviction of Ibori, one of Nigeria’s richest men, in 2012 was hailed by ministers as a triumph for a Scotland Yard anti-corruption unit.
His appeal against the conviction alleges that a police officer in the unit took bribes.
On Thursday, Ibori’s barristers told the court of appeal he was unable to get a fair hearing because evidence from intercepted communications had been banned from being aired in court.
Matthew Ryder, Ibori’s QC, said prosecutors should therefore not oppose his appeal, allowing his conviction to be quashed.
“The United Kingdom is the only country in the world that has an absolute statutory ban on the use and disclosure of intercepted material in court proceedings,” Ryder said.
He added the “draconian” ban meant Ibori had a “fatal handicap” and would be unable to fully explore the allegation of police corruption.
During the appeal, which he launched in March, Ibori’s lawyers have alleged that DC John McDonald, an officer in the anti-corruption unit, received corrupt payments from a firm of private investigators.
The investigators had been hired by Ibori during the original Scotland Yard investigation into him. The firm, Risc Management, is alleged to have made the corrupt payments to acquire information from McDonald about the investigation.
Ibori’s lawyers have alleged that Scotland Yard recorded telephone conversations between McDonald and a Risc employee.
The Crown Prosecution Service opposed Ibori’s appeal, arguing that the corruption allegations cannot be substantiated. McDonald had been cleared in 2013 after a Metropolitan police investigation. The detective denied wrongdoing.
Risc Management has consistently denied wrongdoing, saying it had never paid a serving police officer for information and would never have approved such payments.
John Kinnear, QC for the crown, said the appeal should be dismissed as the existence of evidence derived from intercepted communications did not mean that a fair hearing was impossible.
Lord Justice Gross said he would deliver a judgment on the appeal at a later date.
In 2012, Ibori – described by prosecutors as at one time a “petty thief with his hand in the till” at a branch of a DIY store in Ruislip, Middlesex – pleaded guilty to stealing millions from the Nigerian state and laundering it in the UK.
He had amassed a portfolio of six properties in the UK, South Africa and the US worth $6.9m at a time when he was being paid £4,000 a year as governor of a region in Nigeria. He had sent his children to a British private school.
Bhadresh Gohil, who had been one of Ibori’s lawyers, was jailed in Britain in 2011 for laundering the stolen money.
In February, three court of appeal judges dismissed an attempt by Gohil to have his conviction overturned because it was tainted by the same allegations of police corruption.
The judges ruled Gohil had known about the alleged corruption at his original trial but chosen not to raise it at that point.
They criticised the “grave” failure of prosecutors to hand over thousands of pages of documents containing intelligence gathered by the Met about the corruption allegations.
SOURCE: The Guardian, UK