Written by Bidon Mibzar:

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) yesterday declared former Delta State governor, Mr. James Onanefe Ibori, wanted over an ongoing investigation into allegations of official corruption and money laundering to the tune of N44 billion.

In a statement signed by the EFCC’s Head, Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Babafemi, the agency said, “Following persistent public enquiries over the status of the case involving the former governor, we will like the public to know that Chief James Ibori is wanted by the commission for interrogation.

“In this regard, letters of invitation have been sent to his known addresses in Lagos and Abuja, while a court warrant has equally been obtained for his arrest.”

It was revealed that the EFCC had obtained official records showing that 528.010 million of Delta State’s 856,010,243 million shares in Oceanic Bank were used to guarantee a loan worth over N44 billion given to Ascot Offshore Nigeria Limited by Intercontinental Bank.

Ascot is one of the 205 debtors that owe five banks about N747 billion. It only paid N600 million of the debt before the shares-for-loan deal was uncovered.

A source revealed that  the EFCC chairman, Mrs. Farida Waziri, had set up a team to investigate the deal after reading reports about it in some newspapers.

“She felt so disgusted about the deal and immediately raised an enquiry,” said the source.

“The panel has the mandate to embark on a comprehensive investigation into the circumstances behind the granting of the loan, examine the collaterals, and how Delta State Government came into the picture.

“The EFCC is working on a theory that a syndicate in government was behind the deal in 2007.”

Babafemi said: “Following reports in some newspapers, I am aware that the chairman gave instructions that the deal be probed by a team in the commission.”

A similar probe was launched into the case by the government of Delta State.

In a statement in Asaba, the state Director of Information, Mr. Austin Mowa, said the shares were intact, adding that the state has been receiving dividends for the full value.

The statement read: “The attention of Delta State Government is drawn to the publication in the press on the alleged diversion of Delta State shares in Oceanic Bank. The government wishes to state that the said shares are still intact and that the state government has been receiving dividends for the full value of the said shares. Meanwhile, the state government has ordered an internal investigation into the alleged transaction.”

Ibori has decried the allegations levied on him by the EFCC, describing it as  “mere political harassment that demands for vigorous legal challenge so that Nigeria is not ruled like a fiefdom – and that is what I will give.”

In a press statement signed by his media assistant, Mr. Tony Eluemunor, Ibori called the EFCC’s claim that letters of invitation were sent to his known addresses in Lagos and Abuja while a court warrant had equally been obtained for his arrest as a wicked lie because no such letters were ever received.

The former governor asked his supporters not to panic, saying that up till yesterday no letter inviting him for questioning from either the EFCC or any other security agency had been received

Ibori argued: “The EFCC’s action is just not political and criminal, and it shows that the arm-twisting that defaced the final years of the last administration has been allowed back into Nigeria as the country enters an election year.”

Ibori’s lawyer made this clear in a petition to both the attorney-general of the federation and the EFCC that this matter had been thoroughly investigated in the past and the case rested.

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