Sports star brothers scammed donors to their children’s charity
22 Jan 2019 01:39 PM
A former professional footballer and professional rugby player are among three brothers who were given prison sentences for defrauding donors to their children’s charity, it can now be reported.
Efe Sodje (pictured centre), 35, of Gatley, Cheshire, Bright Sodje (pictured left), 51, of Sale, Cheshire, and Stephen Sodje (pictured right), 43,of Abbey Wood, London, siphoned off more than £60,000 given to the Sodje Sports Foundation (SSF), a National Crime Agency (NCA) investigation found.
They were jailed in September 2017 for 18 months, 21 months, and two years and six months respectively at the Central Criminal Court in relation to the fraud.
A judge at the same court yesterday (Monday 21 January 2019) lifted reporting restrictions preventing publication of the result of that trial, following the completion of a number of linked legal proceedings.
Efe Sodje played in the Football League between 1995 and 2015 and appeared for Nigeria in the 2000 African Cup of Nations and the 2002 World Cup, while Bright Sodje played professional rugby league and union in the 1980s and 1990s.
Efe, Bright and Stephen Sodje set up the SSF in 2009 with the stated aim of helping poor children in the Niger delta.
The three brothers used their connections within professional football and business communities to secure support for their foundation and to give it an appearance of legitimacy.
Between 2011 and 2014 they defrauded donors of at least £63,000. There is no record of what happened to any of the cash donations made at any of the events, meaning NCA officers were unable to put an exact figure on how much the Sodjes profited.
NCA officers who investigated the SSF’s activities found donations usually ended up in personal bank accounts of family members.
In many cases the Sodjes asked that donations be paid to their personal accounts. At least £34,000 was collected in this way.
Events over the three years, including charity football matches, raised funds but nothing reached any under-privileged or sick children.
NCA deputy director Chris Farrimond yesterday said:
“Bright, Efe and Stephen Sodje promoted themselves as generous, community-minded, figures when they were knowingly defrauding people who thought they were helping deprived children in Nigeria.
“NCA financial investigators built a detailed picture of the movement of money in and out of the foundation and showed beyond doubt that for most of the foundation’s existence there was no charitable purpose.”
Tracy Howarth, Head of Regulatory Compliance at the Charity Commission, yesterday said:
“The public rightly expect those running charities to be motivated solely by a desire to further their charity’s purpose, and to behave in ways that inspires trust in their charity and charitable endeavour more widely. The individuals convicted here did the opposite: they misused their privileged position to exploit donors and supporters, and their financial gain came at the expense of the children and causes the charity was supposed to support, and of the trust and goodwill that the donors and supporters of charity place in those responsible for charity.
"I am proud of the Charity Commission’s instrumental role in helping to secure this outcome; we worked closely with the National Crime Agency, and provided vital evidence and witness statements to the court. The outcome of this case sends a strong message that the deliberate, wilful and cynical abuse of charity for private financial gain will be investigated – and will not go unpunished.”
Former Premier League footballer Okeremute Samuel “Sam” Sodje was also charged with fraudulent trading in relation to the Sodje Sports Foundation but was cleared following the initial trial.
In a separate trial, which concluded on 14 January 2019 he was also cleared of two charges of money laundering relating to a scam which saw companies in Columbia, Italy and India defrauded of thousands of pounds they thought was being sent to suppliers.
The jury failed to reach a verdict on two other charges, which will now lay on file.
Sam Sodje’s brother Akpo, 37, is still wanted in connection with the fraud. He fled the UK during the investigation and a European Arrest Warrant has now been issued.
Two other men were convicted in connection with the same offences in January 2018 at an earlier trial. Emmanuel Noel Oziegbi Ehikhamen, aged 53, from Belvedere in Kent was given a 12 month suspended sentence, while Andrew Yulbrynner Oruma (pictured above right), aged 50, from Thamesmead in London was jailed for four years in his absence after absconding from bail during the trial. A warrant has been issued for his arrest.