Is it lawful to detain a ‘foreign criminal’ under immigration powers to keep them in the UK to face confiscation proceedings? No, according to the High Court in R (Ibori) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWHC 1207 (Admin).
After serving part of his sentence of imprisonment in the UK for embezzling “massive” sums of government funds as ex-governor of Delta State, Nigeria, Mr Ibori faced confiscation proceedings aimed at seizing between £57 to £89 million of his ill-gotten gains.
The colourful story of Mr Ibori’s audacious rise from a DIY store cashier and petty thief in the UK to a powerful multi-millionaire governor in Nigeria’s oil heartland has been documented elsewhere. The UK’s own investigation has been plagued by allegations of corruption in the Metropolitan Police.
On the unusual facts of the case, Home Secretary Amber Rudd refused to deport Mr Ibori once he became eligible for conditional release from prison.
Instead, she chose to keep him in the UK to face the confiscation proceedings. The worry was that if he was not detained he might flee the country and potentially frustrate the confiscation proceedings. At issue in this case was whether the Home Secretary could use immigration detention for this purpose.
The problem was that the confiscation proceedings were moving too slowly. Had the CPS acted swiftly to recover the substantial proceeds of Mr Ibori’s crimes, the Home Office could have simply deported him once he became eligible for conditional release.
The CPS failed to do this, leaving the Home Office to speculate on how long the confiscation process might take. After 1 day, 18 hours and 10 minutes of immigration detention, Mr Ibori was released following a legal challenge by his lawyers.
He was eventually allowed to leave the UK voluntarily and was not deported – a move that enabled him to avoid some of the stigma of the deportation process.
His period of immigration detention was found unlawful, because he was not detained for the appropriate purpose (ie. deportation).
The Court awarded him a nominal £1 in damages, because he would have had to be detained in any event to give effect to the deportation order, and the Judge was satisfied that the Home Office had not made any prior agreement for him to voluntarily depart from the UK. For those reasons he had suffered no actual loss.