Desperate to halt a probe into his finances, Nigerian governor James Ibori tried to bribe former anti-corruption boss Nuhu Ribadu in 2007 with $15 million in cash in a bag so heavy one man alone could not lift it, Ribadu told a London court on Thursday.
Ribadu said he pretended to take the bribe because he wanted the cash as evidence to use against Ibori in a prosecution, but rather than keep the money for himself he had it taken straight to the Central Bank of Nigeria to be kept safe in a vault.
Ribadu told the court that about $1 billion flowed from federal government accounts into Delta State coffers during Iboriâ€™s eight years in power, and he estimated Ibori had stolen or wasted more than half of that amount.
The charges to which Ibori pleaded guilty amount to the theft of about $80 million, but British prosecutors say that was only part of his total booty, which was kept hidden via a complex web of shell companies, offshore accounts and front men.
Ribadu, who was chairman of Â Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) from April 2003 to December 2007, was giving evidence at a confiscation hearing in which prosecutors are seeking court orders to have Iboriâ€™s assets seized.
Under Nigeriaâ€™s constitution, state governors enjoy immunity from prosecution but are limited to two terms in office. With the end of his second term looming in April 2007, Ibori was worried the EFCC were planning to prosecute him, Ribadu said.
â€œHe was very desperate to terminate the investigation,â€ he told the court.
In late April 2007, a meeting was arranged between the two men at a â€œneutral placeâ€, the house of Andy Uba, a close associate of former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Ibori arrived at the house with several members of his staff and a very large black sack containing $15 million in cash. Ribadu said he watched as two of Iboriâ€™s men lifted the heavy sack and handed it over to his own EFCC staff. â€œIt was a bag that an individual could not carry alone,â€ he said.
The EFCC men drove the bag to the central bank where the money was counted and boxed into smaller containers. The court was shown photographs of the boxes of cash.
â€œI have given you money Nuhu, just give me my clearance,â€ Ribadu quoted Ibori as telling him after those events.
Instead, the EFCC continued to investigate Iboriâ€™s affairs and had him arrested on corruption charges on December 12, 2007.
It will be recalled that the Delta state government had approached the court asking that the money belonged to the state government and should therefore be returned to the state. The EFCC are however opposed to the return of the money to the state.
The EFCC says that â€œthat the said sum of $15 Million cannot be traced to any account owned or being operated by the Delta State Government or any of its agencies and officialsâ€.