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Brotherly fraud

• For the Sodje brothers, charity began at home as scam

THE NATION - Editorial - 19-01-25a
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Ex-footballers Efe Sodje, 46, and Stephen Sodje, 43, and ex-rugby player Bright Sodje, 52
Ex-footballers Efe Sodje, 46, and Stephen Sodje, 43, and ex-rugby player Bright Sodje, 52

Three brothers of Nigerian descent have shown that not all charities are established by charitable people. Ex-footballers Efe Sodje, 46, and Stephen Sodje, 43, and ex-rugby player Bright Sodje, 52, who set up a charity to help African children, did so to enrich themselves. News of their trial and imprisonment in the UK in 2017 highlighted yet another type of fraud.

It is striking that the Sodje brothers’ conviction was reported following the conclusion of a separate money-laundering case involving former Reading F.C. and Nigeria footballer Sam Sodje, 39. Sam Sodje had been charged with four counts of taking part in a fraud in which bank accounts were used to channel money from companies around the world. He was found not guilty. Another of the brothers, Akpo Sodje, 37, was said to have moved to Dubai and refused to return to Britain for questioning. It is remarkable that five Sodje brothers are in the news for negative reasons.

Members of a sporting family, the convicted brothers had set up the Sodje Sports Foundation (SSF), which was supposed to help provide facilities in Nigeria. The charity, founded in 2009, raised cash at black-tie dinners, auctions, charity football matches and a clay pigeon shoot, but the money went into Sodje bank accounts. For instance, there was a 2011 gala dinner at the Lowry Hotel in Manchester for the SSF and the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital. About 11, 500 pounds raised at the 150 pounds -a-head black-tie event went into the brothers’ pockets, and “not a penny” went to the hospital, the prosecution said.

The judge said “at least £63,000 can be shown to have been received by the fund,” excluding cash donations. He added that the defendants “went out of their way” to ensure that proper records were not kept.

Stephen Sodje, of Bexley, was sentenced to two years and six months in prison for receiving £30,000 in charity funds. Efe Sodje, of Cheadle in Greater Manchester, described as “the face of the charity,” was given 18 months in jail for receiving £7,500 from the SSF and an unknown amount from a clay pigeon shooting event. Bright Sodje, of Sale in Greater Manchester, was jailed for 21 months for receiving £3,000 from the charity and signing cheques to other family members totaling £18,000. “You have brought shame upon yourselves and your family,” the judge told the brothers, describing their conduct as “dishonest and disreputable.”

It is noteworthy that the Charity Commission and the National Crime Agency collaborated to secure the prosecution. The commission’s head of regulatory compliance was quoted as saying the brothers had “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.”

It is disturbing that the brothers were on the same page in this charity fraud case. Was their charity a scam in the first place? The brothers failed to appreciate that it is important for charities to be transparent and accountable. They violated the concept of a charity. Money given to charities should be spent on charitable activities.

The case of the Sodje brothers shows a dark side of the charity sector. Cases like this one weaken public trust in charities as donors and supporters need to be confident that charities are honest.

The role of the Charity Commission in the Sodje brothers’ case deserves attention. In Nigeria, there is no such organisation with regulatory and oversight functions relating to the charity sector. This means charity scams can happen more easily in the country, which should not be the case.


 

Tags: Nigerian, Sodje, charity, scam, Efe Sodje, Stephen Sodje, Bright Sodje, Sodje Sports Foundation (SSF)

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