Ibori Fertiliser Firm, Notore Uncovered

james-iboriJailed former Delta State Governor, James Ibori, used front men and shell companies to acquire a hidden stake in privatised fertiliser company, Notore, a British police detective told a London court on Wednesday. Detective Constable Peter Clark also said Ibori had bought two apartments in Washington in 2001 worth a total of $4.43m, previously unknown assets to add to a list of six other properties in four countries worth $11m. According to Reuters, the court was shown footage of one of the properties, a palatial residence in Abuja complete with marble columns, crystal chandeliers and a private gym.

Ibori 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 the country. 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.

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 $152m 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 Limited, which Clark said appeared to be a shell company that would own part of Notore. 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 $1.2bn.

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 $39.7m, would go to Ibori, Okoloko and Imasekha. Clark testified that a three 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 three per cent to do so,” Clark said.

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