Three brothers of former Sheffield Wednesday star ‘shamed’ for siphoning off money that should have gone to African children
A famous sporting family – who recruited a former Sheffield Wednesday director and a city MP to support their charity who both later resigned – have been shamed for taking money that should have gone to help poor African children.
Ex-footballers Efe Sodje, aged 46, and Stephen Sodje, aged 43, and ex-rugby player Bright Sodje, aged 52, were found guilty and jailed for siphoning off money from their family charity, the Sodje Sports Foundation.
The trio are the brothers of former Owls striker Akpo Sodje, aged 37, who was also implicated but moved to Dubai and has refused to return to Britain to be interviewed.
A trial had heard how the Sodjes set up their charity in 2009 to help provide sporting facilities to youngsters in Nigeria.
The court heard how Ashley Carson, a businessman and former director of Sheffield Wednesday Football Club, and Sheffield South East MP Clive Betts were recruited to give the charity respectability, but when they asked for bank statements and financial reports, they were fobbed off.
Prosecutor Julian Christopher QC said that once the pair resigned as trustees and directors in 2013, "the amount of money being transferred to the Sodje family increased dramatically."
They organised a number of black tie dinners, auctions and charity football matches – including one at Hillsborough Stadium in 2009. But cash raised from a number of the events went into Sodje bank accounts.
Sentencing, Judge Michael Topolski QC told the defendants: "You have brought shame upon yourselves and your family."
Stephen Sodje, of Bexley, south London, was jailed for two years and six months in prison.
The court heard he received about £30, 000 from the charity funds, but continued to protest his innocence, describing it as expenses or wages.
His lawyer Kieran Galvin said the conviction was "shattering" and a "massive fall from grace" for the defendant, who now worked as a carer and has two young step-daughters.
Father-of-one Efe Sodje, of Cheadle, Greater Manchester, who was "the face" of the charity, was given 18 months in jail, having received around £7,500 plus an unknown amount of cash from a fundraising clay pigeon shoot.
He collapsed in the dock and staggered away supported on each side by officers.
Bright Sodje, of Sale, Greater Manchester, was jailed for 21 months for his part in "milking the charity."
The court was told he had received some £3,000, but also signed cheques to other family members totalling about £18,000.
Judge Topolski QC said: "All three of these defendants in various ways exploited their own and their families' reputation, not only for the benefit of the poor children of the Niger valley but also for their own benefit.”
He said "at least £63,000 can been shown to have been received by the fund", but added it was important to note that did not include cash donations, and the defendants "went out of their way" to ensure that proper records were not kept.
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, aged 39, who was cleared over the fraud.
Following a retrial, ex-Reading and Nigeria defender Sam Sodje, of Dartford in Kent, was also 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.
Firms in Colombia, India, Italy and Abu Dhabi were tricked into sending a total of £80,000 after being sent emailed invoices from fake suppliers.
Efe was cleared of money laundering last year but Emmanuel Ehikhamen, aged 53, of south-east London, and Andrew Oruma, aged 50, of Bexley, south London, were convicted.