As British Prosecution dares Judge...Says proceeding must stop in the interest of justice to Ibori !
The Southwark Crown Court in London has on Wednesday, 8th of June, said the confiscation proceedings againt the convicted former governor of Delta State, James Ibori should be put on hold pending the conclusion of the investigation of corruption against the British police officer whose report alongside the statements of the former lead prosecution counsel might have misled the court in jailing the former governor.
James Ibori's lead counsel, Mr Ivan Krolic, QC has asked the court to halt the confiscation proceedings following series of revelations that the the British police officer that investigated Mr Ibori for corruption and money laundering was himself involved in corrupt practices in the course of his investigations.
It was further revealed that the crown prosecution knowing the officer's sharp practices in obtaining unreliable evidences against Mr Ibori refused to disclose such evidences, relied upon it and misled the court in securing Mr. Ibori's conviction.
The judge, His Honour Judge Tomlinson, who had initially shown some resistance to Mr Ibori's application for stay of proceeding pending the conclusion of the Police Review said ''what do I tell the listing officer for not continuing with this proceeding, I need to get a grip of this'. He continued 'Mr Ibori has been convicted nearly 3 years''. Krolic QC cuts in ''4 years''. Judge Tomlinson continued ''Mr Ibori has been convicted nearly 4 years, when does the confiscation hearing start'? Responding to the Judge's query, Mr Krolic said ''This proceeding will start when the Crown completes its review into police corruption. I ask rhetorically, could the court continue with this confiscation hearing when there is an application on abuse of court process'?
Mr Ibori's lead counsel, Mr Krolic, observing Judge Tomlinson's unwillingness to grant the application for a stay of proceeding then said ''We say the Crown Prosecution has manipulated this confiscation proceedings, we say the former lead Crown Prosecution Counsel made misleading statements and submissions. This hearing will not be fair unless the Review is completed and we know to what extent there has been an intent to mislead the court and the extent of corruption leading to non-disclosure of materials against Mr Ibori''.
With tension rising between the Judge and Ibori's lead counsel, and the entire court being caught in the cross fire of arguments between Judge Tomlinson and Ibori's lead Counsel, Mr Krolic QC, the judge, trying to manage the tension pointed out that ''I know that your (Ibori's defence team) position has always been that this case be litigated sooner than later, you have always opposed the crown on stay of proceeding, only for you to bring an application on Monday for a stay of proceeding, but what I need to know is how does this case going to be affected by the review? I still don't know where we are going''.
Responding to Judge Tomlinson's question, Mr Krolic said ''The review into the police corruption not only concerns the safety of the conviction but also of the non-disclosure of materials used against Mr Ibori''.
Giving the background to the case, Mr Krolic said the Crown had initially relied on Assumption 72AA of the Criminal Justice Act in only some of the charges only to turn around after three weeks of proceedings when the case had been closed and submission made by all parties to inform the court that the defence team had confused them (The Crown Prosecution) and that they would now be seeking to apply Assumption 72AA across board. "At the closing, the Crown claimed that they were confused and the the Judge, Anthony Pitts, said he was also confused and ordered the confiscation proceedings to start afresh permitting the Crown to apply Section 72AA across board". Krolic trying to convince the judge maintained: "We say, they (Crown Prosecution) said to the Judge that they were confused and if the court's ruling was based on the intention by the Crown Prosecution to mislead the court, we say that was an Abuse of Court Process".
Meanwhile, the lead Crown Prosecution Counsel, Mr Kinnear QC, who had sat through all the hot arguments between the Judge and Ibori's Counsel and was watching with surprise how the Judge had made frantic efforts to resist Mr Ibori's application for a stay of proceedings pending the conclusion of investigation into police corruption in the case, interrupted the argument. Mr Kinear QC noting His Honour Judge Tomlinson's hardline position on the application said, ''I, on behalf of the Crown, have always said that in the interest of justice that the case be adjourned until the conclusion of the disclosure review. Mr Ibori has also changed his position since Monday agreeing that this case be adjourned. Your Honour, in our submission in respect of this matter, we ask, is it in the interest of justice that this matter be adjourned? Our response will be a resounding Yes'".
Further making a case on the side of Mr Ibori for the proceeding to be put on hold to determine the allegation of British police corruption and the safety of Mr Ibori's conviction, Mr Kinnear, the Crown's lead prosecution counsel emphasised that ''in the Crown's submission, we can't trample on the defendant's right in the interest of justice''.
However, not convinced yet that the Judge has seen the danger in proceeding with the hearing Crown Prosecution lead Counsel, Mr Kinnear went on to say "Your Honour, the application to adjourn is an application this court must accede to in the interest of justice".
Seeing this was a dangerous situation where the Crown Prosecution comes to the side of the defence team, pleading fairness and justice before his court in the interest of the defendant, the judge, His Honour Judge Tomlinson proclaimed, "I am influenced by the submission of the Crown, I do therefore agree that this confiscation proceeding should therefore be adjourned".
There was a high sense of relief on both side of the bench as well as the audience in the court following the ruling for adjournment of the proceeding pending the conclusion of the Review into Police corruption and disclosure.
On the allegation of abuse of court process and the court being misled, Judge Tomlinson said, "issues raised on behalf of Mr Ibori is that Mr Kinnear's predecessor manipulated proceedings, that does appear to me that it is a discreet matter that I can't allow to go away, that previous counsel either misled or manipulated the court to abort the proceeding".
Mr Ibori now stands a good chance of having his conviction revisited and probably quashed if the Review into Disclosure and Police Corruption establishes that indeed there has been failings leading to corruption on the part of the British police that investigated Mr Ibori for corruption and money laundering and that the prosecution has deliberately withheld the materials used against Mr Ibori to manipulate the court in securing Mr Ibori's conviction.
The conclusion of the Review will pave the way for Ibori's defence team to appeal against his conviction and seek to quash it. This will be the most embarrassing case and situation for the British government which looks to be taking a stand against corruption. Nigeria government also stands to be humiliated and embarrassed if Mr Ibori successfully quashes his conviction based on the outcome of the Review, police corruption, abuse of court process and manipulation of the court by the former Crown Prosecution Counsel.
This case is likely to resume in October after the outcome of the Review must have been known and Ibori's defence team decides on how to proceed with the outcome. It does seem there is no end in sight yet on Ibori's conviction in London for money laundery following these new developments and revelations that may end up embarrassing both the Nigerian and Brtish governments.
By Tunde Gabriel Alabi, London.