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Ex-footballer Efe Sodje and brothers jailed over fraud

GUILTY: (Left to right) ex-rugby player Bright Sodje and ex-footballers Stephen Sodje and Efe Sodje

FORMER FOOTBALLER Efe Sodje has been jailed over fraudulently taking tens of thousands of pounds from a charity he set up to help poor children in Africa.

Sodje, 46, and his two brothers Stephen and Bright were all found guilty and jailed for the fraud in 2017 but reporting restrictions have only now been lifted as the separate trial of Sam Sodje, a former Reading and Nigeria footballer, has concluded.

Sam, 39, was cleared of money laundering on Monday.

The Sodje brothers established the Sodje Sports Foundation in 2009. They claimed the charity would help poor children in the Niger delta but the money donated through fundraisers they organised was used for their own personal spending.

Because there is no record of what happened to the cash donations made at any of the events, the National Crime Agency have been unable to identify exactly how much the Sodjes profited from the fraud.

At least £34,000 was collected via the Sodjes’ personal bank accounts. None of the funds raised reached any children in need.

NCA deputy director Chris Farrimond 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.”

Efe, described as “the face” of the charity was sentenced to 18 months in jail. He was convicted of receiving £7,500 from the fund and an unknown amount from a clay pigeon shooting event.

Bright, was jailed for 21 months. He was convicted of taking £3,000 from the charity and signing £18,000 worth of checks to relatives.

Stephen was convicted of taking £30,000 from the charity. He was sentenced to two years and six months in prison.

Tracy Howarth, head of regulatory compliance at the Charity Commission, 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.”

Akpo Sodje, 37, is still wanted in connection with the fraud after fleeing the UK during the investigation. A European arrest warrant has been issued for him.

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