Court frees Babalakin, others of N4.7b fraud charge, EFCC rejects verdict

BABALAKIN-OK

A LAGOS High Court sitting in Ikeja Monday discharged the embattled Chairman of Bi-Courtney Limited, Dr. Wale Babalakin (SAN), and four others over allegation of N4.7 billion fraud preferred against them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

  The presiding judge, Justice Lateef Lawal-Akapo, while ruling on the application for quashing of the suit filed by Babalakin and his co-defendants, the judge formulated four issues raised by the defendants to determine his ruling. The issues are: Whether the EFCC can prosecute a defendant without fiat, whether James Ibori is a public officer, whether two prosecuting authorities can jointly sign a charge and whether the charge on the surface contains sufficient information.

  Justice Lawal-Akapo held three issues in favour of the defendants and only upheld that the EFCC has the power to prosecute any criminal matter in court without fiat.

  The anti-graft commission had charged Babalakin, his companies, Stabilini Vision Limited, Bi-Courtney Limited and Alex Okoh and his company, Renix Nigeria Limited, to court on a 27-count charge bordering on conspiracy, retention of proceeds of criminal conduct and corruptly conferring benefit on account of public action.

  Babalakin and his co-defendants were alleged to have fraudulently assisted the convicted former Delta State governor, James Ibori, to transfer huge sums of money through various parties to Erin Aviation account in Mauritius for the purchase of a plane.

  The defendants had through their various counsel filed separate applications, urging the court to quash the N4.7billion charges, with a position that the EFCC, as a federal agency, lacked valid fiat to prosecute them in a state High Court.

  The defendants’ counsel, Dr. Biodun Layonu (SAN), Mr. Tayo Oyetibo (SAN), Mr. Roland Otaru (SAN), Dr. Joseph Nwobike (SAN) and Mr. Oladapo Akinosun, had also argued that the state High Court has no jurisdiction to hear offences brought under the EFCC Act.

  They argued that all the charges filed against the defendants were predicated on repealed laws of Lagos State and therefore prayed the court to quash the charge.

  The counsel submitted that the defendants were not properly informed of the details of the  charged against them as stated in the Constitution, adding that count 2 to 13 of the charge did not inform the defendants the details of the offence, and neither did they constitute an offence under any written law in the country.

The EFCC counsel, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) objected to the applications of the defendants, saying the court has constitutional right to prosecute the defendants before a state High Court.

 To buttress his arguments, he made reference to Section 286 of the 1999 Constitution which he claimed permits state High Court to entertain federal offences.

  On the issue of general fiat issued by the Attorney General of the Federation, Jacob said the only person who can complain about not getting the said fiat is the Lagos State Attorney General and not any of the party before the court.

 Jacob also said both EFCC and the Attorney General of the Federation are authorised by law to initiate criminal proceeding, noting that the fact that both bodies jointly initiated the charges against the defendants does not make it illegal.

 The judge upheld the argument of counsel to the defendants that the EFCC had not disclosed enough information to sustain the allegation made against Babalakin and his co-defendants. He held that the EFCC did not disclose the particulars of the offences allegedly committed and when the offences took place, among others. “The amended information filed May 7, 2013 is incurably bad and ineffective.”

  The judge also held that Ibori who was alleged to have corruptly conferred the N4.7billion on Babalakin is not a public officer as stated in the charge.

On the issue of prosecuting authorities jointly signing a charge, the judge agreed with the defendants that the trial was a joint prosecution between the EFCC and the Attorney General of the Federation. Justice Lawal-Akapo therefore discharged Babalakin and his co- defendants and threw out the matter.

  Meanwhile, the EFCC has rejected the verdict and promised to go further with the case. “The EFCC will avail itself of all available options, including the right of appeal, after careful study of the ruling,” the commission said in a statement.



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