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Cablegate: Federal Court Dismisses Charges Against Ibori

VZCZCXYZ0003
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHOS #0483/01 3521439
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 181439Z DEC 09
FM AMCONSUL LAGOS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1125
INFO RUEHZK/ECOWAS COLLECTIVE
RUEHUJA/AMEMBASSY ABUJA 0683
RUZEJAA/JAC MOLESWORTH AFB UK
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHDC
RHMCSUU/DEPT OF ENERGY WASHINGTON DC
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHDC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/HQ USAFRICOM STUTTGART GE
RHMFIUU/COMUSNAVEUR NAPLES IT

UNCLAS LAGOS 000483

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV KCOR KDEM NI
SUBJECT: FEDERAL COURT DISMISSES CHARGES AGAINST IBORI

-------
SUMMARY
-------

1. (SBU) A Federal High Court in Asaba absolved former Delta
State Governor James Ibori of any wrong-doing on December 17
in the 170-count, money-laundering case brought against him
by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The
EFCC vowed to challenge the ruling at the Federal Court of
Appeals. Observers called the decision a "travesty of
justice." Although expected, the decision signals a set back
in Nigeria's fight against corruption and may give Ibori
greater political leverage in the short term. END SUMMARY

----------------------------
CHARGES DISMISSED IN RETRIAL
----------------------------
2. (U) On December 17, a Federal High Court in Asaba, Delta
State, dismissed all 170-counts of money laundering charges
brought against former Delta State Governor James Ibori by
the EFCC. Ex-governor Ibori's trial on massive corruption
charges began in Kaduna January 2008, but Ibori's lawyer
argued that Ibori must be tried in the state (Delta) where
his alleged offenses were committed. On December 19, 2008,
the Court of Appeal in Kaduna nullified all proceedings to
that date and ordered a re-trial in Asaba. The ruling on
December 18 in Asaba came after three adjournments called
without tangible reasons. The presiding judge, Marcel
Awokulehin, stated in his judgment that the EFCC had failed
to establish a prima facie case of money laundering and other
related charges against the former governor. He chided EFCC
prosecutors for failing to substantiate charges with
sufficient evidence for a trial of this importance. (NOTE:
Ibori is also under investigation for money laundering in the
U.K. The trial in Southwark was suspended to await the
decision in Asaba. END NOTE.)

-------------------------
NO SURPRISE, EFCC APPEALS
-------------------------

3. (U) EFCC spokesman Femi Babafemi claimed the decision
came as no surprise to the EFCC. Notably, the press had also
reported on preparations for massive victory celebrations
that started days before the court judgment, and Post
contacts expressed cynicism about the outcome. In a press
statement Babafemi announced that EFCC had instructed their
lawyers to "immediately file an appeal" against the judgment.
The statement continued that the EFCC "will leave no stone
unturned to ensure that the case is taken to a logical
conclusion given the enormity of evidence available to the
prosecution."

---------------------------
ALLEGATIONS OF MANIPULATION
---------------------------

4. (U) Allegations of manipulation have been rife ever since
the trial was transferred from Kaduna to Asaba. The
Government of Delta State allegedly provided the building to
house the high court at precisely the same time that Ibori's
lawyers sought to transfer the case. EFCC attorney and civil
rights activist Festus Keyamo described the judgment as
absurd and unacceptable. Keyamo told PolSpec the judge gave
his ruling based on a primary objection by Ibori's lawyers.
He alleged that the judge neither called for witnesses nor
further evidence before ruling. Chief Edwin Clark, speaking
to the press for the Delta State Elders, Leaders, and
Stakeholders Forum meeting in Warri, said that the judgment
"confirmed the fears of some leaders of Delta State that the
Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation,
Mr. Michael Aondoakaa, and Awokulehin had compromised their
offices in the determination of the case."

---------
REACTIONS
---------

5. (U) According to the EFCC spokesman, "this kind of
judgment if not challenged is capable of deepening the menace
of corruption." Keyamo stressed the outcome of the trial
greatly weakens the EFCC and impacts negatively on the cause
of justice in Nigeria. Ijaw leader Clark called the
dismissal of charges against Ibori "a dangerous travesty of
justice." Ordinary Nigerians expressed to PolOff in Lagos
dismay, shame and discouragement at the patent failure of the
Nigerian legal system, and worried openly about the impact
the decision would have on Ibori's trial in London. Ibori's
supporters celebrated in the streets in his home state.

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COMMENT
-------

6. (SBU) The dismissal of charges against Ibori is a
reminder of the degree to which large segments of Nigeria's
judiciary remain part of the wider network of interrelated
patronage systems. The earlier decision to change the venue
from Kaduna to Ibori's home state virtually guaranteed that
the decision would come out favorably to the former governor.
While the judgment did not come as a surprise, it signals a
major set-back in the fight against corruption in Nigeria.
Ibori's victory in Asaba may also strengthen his hand in
Abuja, enabling him to play a more aggressive role in
power-brokering inside the ruling People's Democratic Party
(PDP) at a particuQrly delicate time. END COMMENT.

7. (U) ConGen Lagos coordinated this cable with Embassy
Abuja.
BLAIR

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