Ibori was broke in 1999, say prosecutors
TWO of the major oil majors operating in the Niger Delta area have been indicted of entering into corrupt transactions with the jailed former governor of Delta State, Chief James Ibori.
Chevron and Shell were indicted of refusing to produce written statements to back up the payments they said were made to MER Engineering, a company linked to Ibori.
Southwark Crown Court was also told at the on-going hearing that the former governor had a cash balance of N425,000 at hand and his account with a bank on Victoria Island was overdrawn by N1.2 million when he assumed office as governor in 1999.
Crown prosecutor, Sasha Wass and prosecution witness, detective constable Peter Clark, made these revelations at the hearing on Ibori's case.
Ivan Krolick, who is defending Ibori, was rounding off his cross-examination of Clark and had been contending the claims that the former governor's source of wealth was from corrupt practices in his position as governor and that both Shell and Chevron must have also aided Ibori in corruptly enriching himself during his eight-year tenure the state's governor.
Krolick, who had earlier in the hearing submitted that Ibori was running a thriving business prior to his first term in office in 1999 and must have acquired some of his wealth therein, then asked Clark if he doubted Ibori's claims that he rented out two or three houseboats - through his company, MER Engineering - to both Chevron and Shell, the witness said he didn't know if the claims were genuine or not.
Krolick asked : 'Are you saying there were no houseboats?' Speaking from the witness box, Clark replied: 'I don't know.' When Krolick faulted Clark's claims, the latter said it was because: 'Chevron refused to produce witness statement.'
But Krolick was quick to point to the fact that Chevron handed: 'bundles of evidence - invoices,' to Clark's colleagues who went over to the area to interview representatives of the oil majors. Clark compounded Krolick's worries by saying he doubted whether Chevron is actually a reputable company - as far as their operations in Nigeria is concerned. An almost frustrated Krolick told the police detective: 'I think I put it to you that they are a reputable company, you didn't agree.' Clark responded: 'the dealings that go on in the Niger Delta are murky.'
Responding further to Krolick's questions, Clark noted again that, 'when Chevron were approached if they would produce a witness statement - backing the payments to MER Engineering - they refused.'
Krolick then asked a direct question on the invoices allegedly used by Chevron to pay MER Engineering for the houseboats, 'are you saying they are not genuine and that they were fabricated?' Clark didn't hold back as he answered with: 'I believe the contracts with Chevron were corrupt.' But 'what about Shell?' Krolick asked. 'All I know is that no oil company involved in transactions with MER Engineering was prepared to produce statements.'
After Krolick had rounded off cross-examining Clark, Wass then stood to re-examine the witness and she told the Judge, Anthony Pitts, that she was going to start by addressing the issue of 'where Mr. Ibori got his money from.' Citing page 41 of one of the prosecution bundles of evidence, she revealed that according to the Code of Conduct declaration of Assets, which Ibori produced in 1999, among others - six plots of land, four buildings and nine vehicles - Mr. Ibori said 'cash in hand was N425,000,' and that his bank account was overdrawn by N1.2 million. Ibori, according to Wass, declared on the form that he had nothing in a foreign bank account.'
The crown prosecutor also asked Clark whether Ibori mentioned then that he was receiving any income from his companies. Clark replied: 'no declaration, your honour.'
Wass, who said she was responding to Krolick, who had 'widened his evidence to prove Ibori had legitimate wealth,' also told the confiscation of assets hearing that Clark and others had wanted to visit Delta in 2007, to confirm some of the claims made by MER Engineering but were prevented from doing so. Asked if he visited Delta during his second trip, on the Ibori case to Nigeria in 2007, Clark said: 'No.' This, he said, was because:' A High Court injunction was obtained against the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and the Metropolitan Police.' When asked if there was any connection between the judge who granted the injunction and any of the people linked to Ibori, Clark told the court that the judge is related to Udoamaka Onuiko-Okoronkwo.
The hearing resumes Monday.