Former governor of Delta State, Chief James Ibori, pleaded guilty to 10 charges of fraud and money laundering in a London court Monday, paving the way for the British police to confiscate his assets and return them to Nigeria.
Under the plea bargain agreement he entered with his British prosecutors, he is expected to get a lighter jail sentence which he may serve in Nigeria under the proposed UK Prisoner Transfer Agreement with the Federal Government.
Monday, with his trial at London's Southwark crown court about to begin, Ibori changed his original plea and admitted stealing money from Delta State and laundering it in London through a number of offshore companies.
Ibori admitted to fraud totalling more than $79 million (N12.6 billion), said to be part of total embezzlement that could exceed $250 million (N40 billion).
He will be sentenced at the same court on April 16 and 17.
Prosecutor Sasha Wass told the court Ibori had accepted he was involved in "wide-scale theft, fraud and corruption when he was governor of Delta State".
When he ran for the governorship of Delta State, Ibori allegedly used a false date of birth to conceal previous convictions because a criminal record would have excluded him from taking part in the election.
"Mr Ibori tricked his way into public office. He had tricked the Nigerian authorities and the Nigerian voters. He was thus never the legitimate governor of Delta State," said Wass.
"We are pleased with today's guilty pleas which mark the culmination of a seven-year inquiry into James Ibori's corrupt activities," said Detective Inspector Paul Whatmore of the Metropolitan police. "We will now be actively seeking the confiscation of all of his stolen assets so they can be repatriated for the benefit of the people of Delta State."
Ibori, whose address in England was given as Primrose Hill in north London, was working as a cashier in a branch of a DIY store in Ruislip, Middlesex, when he moved to Nigeria and worked his way up through the political ranks to become a state governor in 1999, the court was told.
The court also heard that as governor of Delta State, Ibori racked up credit card bills of $200,000 a month and owned a fleet of armoured Range Rovers.
He was trying to buy a plane for $20 million at the time he was arrested in 2010 in Dubai at the request of the Metropolitan Police and extradited to London last year.
His wife, Theresa Ibori; sister, Christine Ibori-Idie; associate, Udoamaka Okoronkwo; and London-based solicitor Bhadresh Gohil have all already been convicted of money laundering.
Britain's Department for International Development (DfID) funds the Metropolitan police's proceeds of corruption unit (POCU), which investigated the case, at a cost of approximately £750,000 a year. The unit began investigating Ibori in 2005, working alongside the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The British police had earlier dropped corruption charges levelled against Ibori, leaving him to face money laundering charges.
A source had told THISDAY at the weekend that both the prosecution and Ibori had become trial weary and were looking forward to a quick resolution of the case, which began about seven years ago.
According to the source, the investigators had not made much progress in their search for evidence that has cost the British taxpayers over £14 million.
In June 2010, a Southwark court in London convicted his sister, Ibori-Ibie, for money laundering and mortgage fraud.
The 12-member jury held that she was guilty as charged for helping her brother to embezzle about $101.5 million while he was in office.
Ibori-Ibie and Okoronkwo-Onuigbo were later sentenced to 21 years in prison in London for their different roles in the case.
Related stories: Ibori's bail revoked, re-arrested in Dubai