By Segun Adeoye
It made headline news in a number of Nigerian news media, and gave supporters of James Ibori, a former Delta State governor, convicted for money laundering in the UK, something to peddle around; but the report, titled, “Revealed: How top QC ‘buried evidence of Met bribes to put innocent man in jail’” published in the UK’s The Mail on Sunday, October 9, 2016 has now got the fingers of the newspaper’s editors burnt.
A document exclusively obtained indicates that the Independent Press Standards Organisation, IPSO, ruled that The Mail violated Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the organisation’s Editor’s Code of Practice. Titled “Decision of the Complaints Committee 00894-17 Wass v The Mail on Sunday”, it detailed investigations into complaints lodged against the The Mail by Sasha Wass QC, a prosecution counsel. Wass complained that in the story, the newspaper falsely accused her that she “lied to judges in order to hide damning evidence of police corruption” during the appeal hearing of Bhadresh Gohil, challenging his conviction. Gohil, a lawyer to Ibori, was convicted of counts of money laundering and a count of prejudicing money laundering investigation, on November 22, 2010 after “a lengthy trial” before HHJ Hardy and a jury at Southwark Crown Court. He was accused “to have concealed and to have facilitated the laundering of some of Ibori’s fraudulently obtained gains”. In convicting him, the court had relied “on documents, alleged to be fraudulent and/or fictitious, found secreted” in his office. In fact, Gohil on December 6, 2010 “pleaded guilty” to “counts of conspiracy to defraud, and conspiracy to make false instruments”, and was subsequently sentenced to 10 years in jail, with confiscation proceedings instituted, afterwards. In the landmark ruling [Case No: 201206129B4], delivered on July 17, 2014 the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) presided over by Lord Justice Davis, Justice Andrew Smith and HHJ Cooke QC, dismissed in its entirety, the nine grounds of appeal by Gohil seeking to overturn his conviction.
The court dismissed the grounds of appeal that “there was no evidence of any loss to Delta State”, noting that “in the event, Ibori himself had subsequently pleaded guilty” to the charges. The court further ruled that: “There is, in our view, no basis for permitting the applicant to vacate his pleas… We add that the various grounds have no greater force taken cumulatively than they have taken singly…overall these renewed applications seem to us to be singularly lacking in merit.”
But The Mail report had portrayed Gohil as an “innocent man”, wrongfully sent to jail. It had reported that “Gohil had been cleared by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA)”, when in fact, such was not the case. The report had also portrayed Wass of “tampering with evidence”, alluding that she “had buried evidence which might have assisted [Gohil’s] defence in a case she had prosecuted”. Miffed that the publication had presented to the public false report, Wass lodged her complaint with the IPSO on February 2. Nineteen days after, the Press Organisation began its investigations into the allegations. And, on July 20, IPSO issued its decision to uphold the complaints, noting that “the court had subsequently dismissed the appeal” of Gohil’s defence on the allegation of police corruption, which the court held “were unfounded”.
The IPSO further held that: “The article had inaccurately reported that despite his conviction for fraud, Mr Gohil had been cleared of wrongdoing by the SRA.” Report of IPSO’s decision after investigations, reads in part: “The newspaper had published significantly inaccurate information and it had failed to comply with the obligations of Clause 1(ii)… As such, the Committee required the publication of an adjudication.” Ten months after publishing the said report, The Mail ate the humble pie and published a retraction – http://www. dailymail.co.uk/home/article-4764454/IPSO-adjudication-upheld-against-MoS-Sasha-Wass-QC. html?ITO=1490
Back to the Wall
The EFCC had partnered with the UK Met Police, to make Ibori answer for charges of money laundering, after Justice Marcel Awokulehin of the Federal High Court, Asaba, Delta State, on December 17, 2009 dismissed the 170 counts of money laundering brought against him in Nigeria. Five years after Ibori pleaded guilty to counts of money laundering and related offences of fraud to the tune of £50 million at a UK Southwark Crown Court, February 27, 2012 his case has become a Shakespearean drama with intriguing series. What with his benefactors’ jubilations that greeted his return to Nigeria, February 4, after his release from a UK prison in December [spending about half of his 13-year jail sentence]; his appeal against his conviction; and the campaign of calumny targeted at UK police officers that investigated him.
One of such, published on financialwatchngr.com, November 28, 2016 claimed that the UK had opened “fresh investigation of corrupt policemen involved” in Ibori’s trial. The report credited to a statement by Tony Eluemunor, Ibori’s media aide, had posited that “the latest investigation” was by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC). Investigations, however, indicate that there was in fact, no such “fresh investigation” and the IPCC was not investigating anything new. Interaction with one of the officers involved in the investigation and prosecution of Ibori, indicates that no such notices, as claimed in the Eluemunor statement, was served on the officers.
The report overreached its propaganda agenda, referring to the officers as being “on active duty while the investigation continued”, when in fact, the reverse was the case as they had long retired from the Police. Matthew Hurding-Jones, who was listed among the officers erroneously reported as being investigated, had changed his name three years before the publication of the report. Further investigation revealed that Lambertus De-Boer referred to as “a lawyer” who made the “revelation” in the statement, is not a lawyer and indeed, pleaded guilty to overwhelming evidence gathered against him in relation to the v-mobile fraud. Allegations of bribery and corruption on part of police officers who investigated Ibori, were actually dismissed in the July 17, 2014 appeal court ruling, as they formed one of the grounds of the appeal. The court ruled that the allegation that Risc Management Limited (RML), a company of private investigators gave bribes to officers in the course of investigation, in exchange of “privileged information”, was “a very grave one”, but “such allegation has in fact already in substance being investigated and rejected”. Moreover, investigation proved the allegation of payment of £20,000 as bribe to police officers to be false. It was established that £11,500 supposedly invoiced by RML was never paid. The remainder was paid to an operative of RML for travel expenses. None ever went into the pocket of any of the officers that investigated Ibori. “It was Gohil who manufactured the documents to make it look like it was paid to a police officer,” one of the investigating officers revealed, explaining that there were two hard drives hidden behind a fireplace in Gohil’s office.
“The mountains of evidence we secured would make your eyes pop out! That’s why Ibori pleaded guilty.” Fighting dirty For the Ibori Team, it is no doubt a fight to the end. Only in May, the Ibori media machine churned out a report, claiming “legal victory” for Ibori, and portraying him as a “victim of persecution”. It alluded to the claim that Ibori secured “victory” against the UK government, and that “Ibori’s human rights had been violated” by Amber Rudd, the UK Home Secretary. No doubt, the “other side of the news”. In actual fact, Rudd had tried to keep Ibori in the UK so that his confiscation hearing could be dealt with. A trial judge had rejected Ibori’s claim for £4,000 in damages, and instead awarded “nominal damages” of £1 for his being kept in custody for an extra 42 hours.
The decision to keep Ibori in immigration detention, the judge opined, was probably because of millions of pounds authorities were yet to recover from him, as against a violation of Ibori’s rights as alluded to by the report. Apparently, Ibori, seems a wounded lion fighting tooth and nail to stall confiscation of his assets in the UK, even as he awaits the hearing of the appeal, which is understood comes up in November.