The extraordinary account of how a former cashier at a DIY store in London became governor of a Nigerian state and embezzled £50 million ($77 million) to live "like royalty" was set out before a packed courtroom yesterday.
James Ibori, 59, earned £15,000 when he worked on the tills at a Wickes branch in west London in the Eighties, but after returning to the country of his birth he used deceit and cunning to claw his way to high political office.
His greed increased exponentially during the course of his governorship, as did his arrogance.
After becoming governor of the oil-rich state of Delta in 1999, he spent the next eight years channelling state funds into his bank accounts, before buying a fleet of cars and a property portfolio that included four homes in Britain. His regime is thought to have defrauded the Nigerian people of £157 million, including his personal share of £50 million, which was laundered in London via offshore companies.
James Ibori ... "lived like royalty". Photo: AFP
A sentencing hearing at Southwark Crown Court in London, which followed his earlier admissions of money laundering, fraud and forgery, was delayed after police had to be called to control crowds of Ibori's supporters, who knocked the prosecutor to the ground as they tried to rush into the small courtroom.
Once order had been restored and Sasha Wass had been helped back to her feet, a judge was given the details of Ibori's rise to power.
Miss Wass explained that Ibori moved to Britain from Nigeria in the Eighties, when he worked at a Wickes store in Ruislip and married his wife, Theresa. The couple were arrested for stealing from the store in 1990 and fined £300.
A year later Ibori was convicted of handling a stolen credit card and fined £100 before he moved back to Nigeria and got a job as a "policy consultant" for president Sani Abacha's government.
He used the foothold to climb the ladder of the ruling People's Democratic Party and in 1999 stood for election as governor of Delta state after using a false passport and date of birth to hide his previous convictions from the Nigerian Election Commission.
Miss Wass said: "From the moment he was elected he set about enriching himself at the expense of some of the poorest people in the world. His greed increased exponentially during the course of his governorship, as did his arrogance."
Under Nigerian law, Ibori was immune from prosecution during his two terms as governor, making him feel "untouchable", the court heard, and he used the opportunity to "systematically defraud" the public.
Miss Wass said: "From starting off as a petty thief with his hands in the till at Wickes who couldn't afford his mortgage, he ended up as a property tycoon who led the lifestyle of royalty."
Ibori even insisted on being addressed as "your excellency", even though governors were never given the title.
He bought three houses in London, one in Dorset and a £3.2 million property in Johannesburg, as well as a house in Houston, Texas. He also bought and renovated properties in Nigeria which were "lavish in the extreme".
His three daughters were sent to the £23,265-a-year Port Regis boarding school in Dorset; his monthly credit bills alone topped £125,000, and at the time of his arrest he was trying to buy a £15 million private jet.
When he was held in Nigeria in 2007 the High Court froze assets worth £35 million despite him earning just £4000 a year from his governorship.
The court was told that Ibori amassed the fortune by inflating state contracts and awarding them to relations, taking kickbacks and stealing money directly from state accounts. He used offshore companies to hide the money in Guernsey and elsewhere, helped by his wife, his sister, his mistress Udoamaka Oniugbo, and three others, who have been jailed for a total of 30 years. His sentencing hearing, which is expected to last two days, continues
The Daily Telegraph, London