A former Scotland Yard detective has been charged with multiple counts of theft in relation to one of Britain’s largest fraud cases.
Clifford Knuckey, who left the Met to work as a private investigator, allegedly fabricated invoices to suggest he was bribing his former police colleagues for inside information from a major investigation into a Nigerian politician.
James Ibori, the ex-governor of the west African country’s oil-rich Delta State, hired Knuckey’s former private detective agency RISC Management, to help him defend charges of fraud and money-laundering.
Despite the expensive assistance of Knuckey, Ibori was eventually jailed in 2012 for embezzlement after he admitted stealing almost £50 million, although the true amount may have been many times greater.
Since the conviction, Scotland Yard have been investigating Knuckey’s work for Ibori and the Nigerian’s City law firm.
The former detective inspector at the Yard is alleged to have billed lawyers at Speechly Bircham for invoices worth thousands of pounds for false payments for his confidential sources, who allegedly had inside information on police strategy during the investigation into Ibori.
Tonight the Crown Prosecution Service announced that Knuckey had been charged with five counts of theft for producing “false, misleading or deceptive” invoices between October 2006 and August 2008.
Keith Hunter, another former Met police officer and chief executive of RISC Management, was arrested two years ago but has now been told he faces no further action.
Ian Timlin, a former litigation partner at Speechly Bircham, was also arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to corrupt a police officer, perverting the course of justice and money-laundering offences. He, too, has been told he is in the clear.
In a separate move today, prosecutors also charged Ibori’s former lawyer Bhadresh Gohil with perverting the course of justice.
Mr Gohil, who was convicted of money-laundering along with his client, is alleged to be behind “false allegations that officers of the Metropolitan Police had received corrupt payments from Risc Management Ltd”.
His charge also relates to allegedly false evidence he presented to the Court of Appeal and the Home Affairs Select Committee.
The conviction of Ibori is by far the biggest success for Scotland Yard’s Proceeds of Corruption Unit, a specialist squad investigating global fraud and money-laundering that is funded by the Department for International Development.
RISC, which is also used by law firm Mischon de Reya, has links to Russian oligarchs in London. It was first established as ISC Global in October 2000 by a lawyer called Stephen Curtis. He died in a helicopter accident in 2004, a crash that his family claimed was highly suspicious.
Mr Curtis acted for a group of billionaire Russians led by Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Leonid Nevzlin, who controlled Yukos, Russia’s privatised energy giant. The two men have fought a high-profile battle over many years against the Russian President, Vladimir Putin.
Mr Khodorkovsky is serving a 14-year jail term after being found guilty of stealing more than £15 billion worth of oil from three subsidiaries of Yukos. Mr Nevzlin was found guilty of murder in a Russian court and is now in exile in Israel. both oligarchs reportedly provided £3 million to set up ISC.
After Mr Curtis died, Mr Hunter took over ISC Global and renamed it RISC. The former Met Police officer worked on “high-profile investigations of national and international organised crime” at Scotland Yard before entering the private investigations industry in 1997, according to the company’s website.
In 2006, it emerged the former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko visited RISC’s central London offices shortly before he died of polonium poisoning, and traces of the radioactive substance were found at the premises.
Background on Ibori
James Ibori spent part of his early life in London and once worked as a £15,000-a-year cashier at a Wickes DIY store in Ruislip. But after returning to Nigeria, the country of his birth, he quickly used extraordinary levels of deceit and cunning to become one of Nigeria’s most influential and richest politicians.
After becoming governor of the oil-rich state of Delta in 1999, he spent the next eight years channelling state funds into his bank accounts to spend on luxury homes, top-of-the-range cars, five-star travel and fees at exclusive boarding schools. Under his tenure, the Nigerian people are thought to have lost out on £157 million, which was laundered in London via offshore companies.
When he was jailed for 13 years at Southwark Crown Court last year, it emerged that he and his wife, Theresa, had been arrested for stealing from the Wickes store in 1990 and fined £300. A year later Ibori was convicted of handling a stolen credit card and fined £100 before he moved back to Nigeria and got a job as a “policy consultant” in President Sani Abacha’s government.
Rising quickly through the ranks of the ruling People’s Democratic Party, he was voted governor of Delta State in 1999 after using a false passport and date of birth to hide his previous convictions.
In power, Ibori systematically stole from the public purse, took kickbacks and inflated state contracts which he awarded to relatives.
At his sentencing, prosecutor Sasha Wass said: “From the moment he was elected he set about enriching himself at the expense of some of the poorest people in the world.”
She told the court he was “effectively a thief in government house”.