18 January 2013

Nigeria: EFCC Finally Arraigns Babalakin, Others for N4.7 Billion Fraud

At last, the embattled Chairman of Bi-Courtney Limited, Dr. Wale Babalakin (SAN), was thursday arraigned before Justice Adeniyi Onigbanjo of an Ikeja High Court on a 27-court charge preferred against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

Babalakin was arraigned alongside his companies Stabilini Visioni Ltd, Bi-Courtney Limited, Renix Nigeria Limited.

He was charged in connection with criminal conspiracy and money laundering to the tune of N4.7 billion on behalf of the convicted former Delta State governor, Chief James Ibori.

The anti-graft commission had alleged that the defendants fraudulently assisted Ibori to transfer various sums, through various parties, to an Erin Aviation Account in Mauritius for the purchase of a Challenger Jet aircraft.

At yesterday's proceedings, when the charges were read out to him in open court, Babalakin and his co-defendants pleaded not guilty.

Counsel to the businessman, Olawale Akoni (SAN) then prayed the court to grant his client bail on self-recognition.

"He is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, a member of the body of benchers, pro-chancellor of the University of Maiduguri, the Chairman of the Committee of pro-chancellors in Nigeria and the Senior Partner of one of the biggest law firms in the country

"He will present himself for trial. He came by himself into the court this morning without coercion," Akoni said.

The counsel to Okoh, Tayo Oyetibo (SAN), also prayed the court to grant his client bail on self-recognition as he had once headed a commercial bank in the country and had been ready for his arraignment each time it was scheduled.

Justice Onigbanjo in two separate rulings, later granted the duo bail on the grounds of self-recognition owing partly to the decision by counsel to the EFCC, Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) not to oppose the bail application but maintained that the bail terms should ensure that the defendants attend their trial.

He further ordered that their international passports be deposited with the EFCC and should only be released with permission of the court.

The matter was then adjourned till February 25, 2013 to enable the court hear the pending interlocutory applications filed by the defence.

Babalakin's offences, according to the anti-graft commission, are contrary to Section 17(a) of the EFCC (Establishment) Act 2004.

Efforts to arraign the defendants were stalled on November 29 and December 12 last year after Babalakin's counsel told the court that he had been admitted at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi-Araba, Lagos.

At the last adjourned date of the case, Justice Onigbanjo had fixed January 17 for further hearing into the case due to the purported ill-health of the first defendant.

The Senior Advocate, who was dressed in navy blue stripped coloured suit over a white shirt with a wine coloured tie and black shoe, came into the court premises at exactly 10.00am in a black ML Mercedez Benz Jeep with registration number: Lagos: TP 425 AAA.

Babalakin who was cool all through the proceedings which lasted for about two hours, betrayed no emotion in the courtroom filled to capacity with friends, associates, staff of Bi-Courtney and relations who had come to sympathise with him.

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