Andy McSmith's Diary: Boys from the black stuff - Cherie Blair set to make a mint defending oil giant

Our Man in Westminster

Cherie Blair has taken on a new assignment that is going to require her to spend many hours studying one of the worst stories of greed and corruption ever to come out of Africa. The case of James Ibori, the avaricious former governor of the Delta State, in Nigeria, is unusual, because he was caught, tried and convicted, and is currently serving a 13-year sentence in a British jail.

Meanwhile, in Southwark Crown Court, the authorities are seeking to track his ill-gotten gains, though shell companies and secret bank accounts. with a view to confiscation. Ibori, predictably, is not co-operating, but evidence was produced in court that in 2004, he told a Swiss bank that he owned 30 per cent of the Nigerian oil company, Oando. If true, that alone would make him a billionaire, and would be an obvious place for the recovery of the loot to begin.

The news caused shares in Oando to fall dramatically, two days in a row, at a time when they are negotiating to invest more than £1 billion in buying the Nigerian assets of the giant US oil company, ConocoPhillips.

Oando flatly deny that Ibori is has ever been a significant shareholder. They have issued a statement saying that “Ibori at no time in the history of Oando's existence owned nor held a 30 per cent stake in the company.” They claim that he holds just 443 shares out of a total of nearly 7 billion.

The company has a lawyer in court struggling to defend its reputation, although his job is made difficult because the firm is not a party to the hearing. This week, the Osun Defender, one of Nigeria's leading newspapers, reported that Oando was sending for high-powered leading reinforcements in the person of Cherie Blair, who was to be paid a nifty fee of £200,000.

A spokesman for Matrix Chambers would be drawn on what Mrs Blair is to be paid, but said: “I can confirm that Mrs Blair, in her role as a barrister [Cherie Booth QC], is presently instructed on this matter.”

RS VP GTA V: game makers invited to see the real Hawick

The creators of Grand Theft Auto V, which is currently keeping hundreds of teenagers out of trouble by allowing them to commit violent crimes in virtual space, have been invited to visit a peaceful little town just north of the English-Scottish border. Hawick, in Roxburghshire, on the road that links Edinburgh to Carlisle, has about 15,000 inhabitants, and is best known for its Common Riding festival, which involves hundreds of horse riders parading through its streets.

But there is now another Hawick, a place of gun battles, prostitution, high speed car chases, drive-by shootings and general mayhem and murder, on the edge of the crime-ridden megalopolis of Los Santos. Grand Auto Theft is proving to be one Scotland's most profitable exports, and the game makers, Rockstar North, who are based in Edinburgh, like weaving Scottish references into the game. But on this occasion, though, they have truly upset the locals. “Hawick is a lovely place. I've never even seen a gun in my life. I'm totally disgusted,” says David Paterson, Hawick's representative on the Scottish Borders Council.

John Lamont, the local member of the Scottish Parliament, said: “They clearly do not know Hawick well, and that is why I have invited them to meet with me at my office on the town's High Street,”

Hague on course for a world A-Z

A game that well-travelled people like to play is to see if they can visit a country whose name begins with A, another beginning with B, and so on until they have covered the whole alphabet - apart from X, there being no country beginning with X. Today, I can exclusively reveal that since becoming Foreign Secretary, William Hague has notched up a very impressive score of 23 out of a possible 25, having been to 71 different countries in 39 months, including Oman, Qatar, Vietnam and Yemen. If he could just find the time and a pretext to drop into Western Sahara and Zambia, he would have a full house.

Think-tank wears its art on its sleeve

The prize for the most pretentious invitation of the current round of party conferences goes to Policy Exchange, David Cameron's favourite think tank, who have sent each invited guest an orange wrist band which they are supposed to wear as their entry ticket to the bash, at the Manchester Art Gallery. The accompanying slip of paper claims that the invitation is “non-transferable”, though it is difficult to think of anything more transferable than a wrist band. To compound the offence, they appear to have forgotten to invite me.

German election picks up nul points

“German elections are a bit like Eurovision: the performances are generally dull, and the entertainment comes in the numbers at the end,” says the multi-lingual Tory MP Greg Hands, whose wife is half German, who has been monitoring the return of Angela Merkel.

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