ABUJA/LONDON (Reuters) - James Ibori, who as governor of oil-rich Delta State became one of Nigeria’s richest and most powerful men, has returned to the country after serving a sentence for corruption in Britain, his lawyer said on Saturday.
“I can confirm that he left last night and arrived this morning in Nigeria,” Jonathan Chike-Epelle, Ibori’s lawyer in Britain, told Reuters by phone.
Local media have said he remains influential in politics, and in an interview with Reuters on Tuesday, Ibori did not rule out a political comeback.
Arrested in 2010, Ibori served half his 13-year sentence - as is normal under British procedures - after pleading guilty in 2012 to 10 counts of fraud and money-laundering. He was released in December, but is still locked in a battle over his assets.
While in office, Ibori acquired luxury properties in Britain, the United States, South Africa and Nigeria. He is the most senior Nigerian politician to have been held to account for the corruption that has blighted Africa’s most populous nation.
His jailing in Britain, where he had laundered millions of pounds and sent his children to an expensive private school, was hailed as a high point in the international fight against graft and an important signal to other corrupt politicians.
But the conviction has since become bogged down in allegations of misconduct by British authorities.
Asked by Reuters if he would run for office again, Ibori said he was barred from doing so for 10 years because of his conviction, but that he intended to appeal to have that conviction overturned.
The appeal would be based on an allegation, made by one of Ibori’s former associates, that a British police officer had taken bribes in return for inside information on the case before Ibori’s conviction, and that prosecutors had covered it up.
British police say the allegation was investigated, resulting in no arrests or charges.
The state prosecution service says material supporting the allegation exists and it initially failed to disclose that to Ibori’s defence team, but it is confident Ibori’s conviction remains valid. Court proceedings are ongoing.
Reporting by Paul Carsten in Abuja and Estelle Shirbon in London