A LAWYER who was convicted more than a decade ago on fraud and money laundering charges has been ordered by a UK court to pay over £28 million associated with criminal activity.
Bhadresh Gohil, 58, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2010 after being convicted of money laundering, prejudicing a money laundering investigation and conspiracy to defraud in connection with a corruption case involving a client who was a politician in Nigeria.
At the conclusion of lengthy confiscation proceedings at Southwark Crown Court in London on Monday (24), the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said Gohil was found to have benefited in the sum of £42.4 million. The judge determined he has available assets of £28.2 million to pay a confiscation order or serve six additional years in prison.
“This was one of our largest international cases and illustrates how robustly the CPS tackles international illicit finance and corruption,” said Adrian Foster, chief crown prosecutor in the CPS Proceeds of Crime Division. “The amount that both defendants have benefited from their criminality has been highly contested, but thanks to the hard work of our dedicated team and that of the National Crime Agency (NCA), we have been able to uncover the full extent of their corruption.
“This has led to the making of Confiscation Orders of over £128 million, which will ultimately result in the return of funds back to the people of Nigeria,” he said.
Gohil’s client James Ibori, 61, was found to have used his position as Governor of Delta State in Nigeria to steal millions to fund a lavish and luxurious lifestyle, buying properties in London, Washington DC, and Texas, as well as a Mercedes and a Bentley.
His case concluded last Friday (21), when the judge determined he systematically defrauded the state and its citizens of millions of pounds, was ordered to pay more than £101 million or face an additional eight years in prison.
“This very significant amount of money was confiscated following an extensive investigation. Ibori was powerful and influential, but he was not above the law. Now the life he built from criminal enterprises has been taken from him,” said Suzanne Foster, the Branch Commander of NCA.
“Ibori’s funds will be returned to the Nigerian government where they will be reinvested into public services… We will continue to work with partners to tackle the global threat of money laundering, and target anyone that undermines the integrity of our financial system,” she said. The court heard that Ibori laundered the proceeds of his crime through a complex scheme that involved his associates, including his wife, his sister, and his lover. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering, money laundering, conspiracy to defraud, and conspiracy to make false instruments in February 2012 and was sentenced to 13 years in prison.
The Metropolitan Police investigated allegations of corruption and theft of state funds while Ibori was Governor of Delta State. A focus was on the fraudulent sale and purchase of shares in Ibori’s mobile phone company ‘V mobile’ to Delta State and Akwa Ibom State in Nigeria.
Money was also found to have been laundered by Gohil through a myriad of offshore companies and bank accounts as well as UK-based entities, the NCA said. Gohil was found to have helped Ibori hide his criminal proceeds and to defraud the people of Delta State, Nigeria.
During the ensuing confiscation proceedings, Ibori disputed that he had benefited and the court was told he went to great lengths to disguise the assets he owned.
The CPS argued that Ibori’s claims of legitimate wealth were fabricated to pretend that they were not the proceeds of crime.
After a conviction, the CPS can ask the court to make such a Confiscation Order where the judge considers the total financial “benefit” that a defendant made from their criminal activity and the total value of the available assets the defendant currently has to pay the order.