Three sporting brothers have been “shamed” for defrauding a charity set up for poor African children, it can now be reported.
Former footballers Efe Sodje, 46, and Stephen Sodje, 43, and ex-rugby player Bright Sodje, 52, were found guilty and jailed in 2017 for siphoning money from their family charity, the Sodje Sports Foundation (SSF).
The Sodjes are a family of 11 siblings born in Greenwich, southeast London, to parents of Nigerian descent.
They set up the charity in 2009 to help youngsters in the UK, Nigeria and other countries in Africa.
During the trial, the court heard how Ashley Carson, a businessman and director of Sheffield Wednesday Football Club, and Sheffield MPs Clive Betts, were recruited to give the charity respectability.
However when they asked for bank statements and financial reports, they were fobbed off.
Once the pair resigned as trustees and directors in 2013, “the amount of money being transferred to the Sodje family increased dramatically,” prosecutor Julian Christopher QC said.
Money raised at black tie dinners, auctions, charity football matches and a clay pigeon shoot went into the Sodje bank accounts.
In 2011, a gala dinner for the SSF and the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital raised almost £11,500, but “not a penny went to the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital,” Mr Christopher said.
Judge Michael Topolski QC told the defendants: “You have brought shame upon yourselves and your family.”
He sentenced Stephen Sodje to two years and six months in prison and said he lied repeatedly to the jury and was a “self-regarding and arrogant man with a strong sense of self-entitlement”.
The court heard he received around £30,000 from the charity funds, but continued to protest his innocence and described it as expenses or wages.
His lawyer Kieran Galvin said the conviction was a “massive fall from grace” for the defendant, who now works as a carer.
Efe Sodge, known as “the face” of the charity, was given 18 months in jail having received around £7,500 plus an unknown amount of cash from the clay pigeon shoot.
Bright Sodje was jailed for 21 months and was said to have received some £3,000, as well as signing cheques to other family members totalling around £18,000.
The judge said that any good done by the charity in the past would be “forever tainted by their dishonest and disreputable conduct”.
Chris Farrimond, deputy director of the National Crime Agency, 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.
The brothers’ convictions in 2017 can only now be reported at the conclusion of a separate money laundering case involving Efe and ex-Premiership star Sam Sodje, 39, who was cleared over the fraud.
Following a retrial, ex-Reading and Nigeria defender Sam Sodje was found not guilty of taking part in a scam in which bank accounts were used to channel cash from companies around the world in 2013.
(c) Sky News 2019: Sodje scandal: Sporting brothers jailed for Africa charity fraud