23rd February, 2015
Justice Lateef Lawal-Akapo of the Lagos High Court today discharged the Chairman of Bi-Courtney Ltd, Dr. Wale Babalakin (SAN) over a N4.7billion fraud charge filed against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The court also absolved Babalakin’s companies Stabilini Visioni Ltd., Bi-Courtney Ltd, Renix Nigeria Ltd and Alex Okoh who were charged along with him.
The EFCC had charged Babalakin and his co-defendants 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.
The anti-graft agency alleged that Babalakin and his co-defendants fraudulently assisted 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.
But Babalakin alongside his co-defendants through their lawyers filed separate applications, praying Justice Lawal-Akapo to quash the N4.7bn charges, with a position that the EFCC, as a federal agency, lacked valid fiat to prosecute them in a state high court.
The defendants through their 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.
The lawyers posited that all the charges against the defendant were predicated on repealed laws of Lagos State and urged the court to quash same.
They also submitted that the defendants were not properly informed of the details they were charged for as stated in the Constitution, adding that count 2 to 13 of the charge did not inform the defendant the details of the offence, neither did they constitute an offence under any written law in the country.
EFCC through its lawyer, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), while opposing the applications of the defendants told the court it has constitutional right to prosecute the defendants before a state high court.
Jacob also contended that Section 286 of the constitution 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 himself and not any of the party before the court.
The EFCC counsel said both EFCC and the Attorney General of the Federation are authorised by Law to initiate criminal proceeding, adding that the fact that both bodies jointly initiated the charges against the defendants does not make it illegal.
Ruling on the application today, the trial Judge, formulated four issues to determination; Whether the EFCC can prosecute a defendants without fait, 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.
The judge resolved three of the issues in favour of Babalakin and his co defendant and only upheld that the EFCC had the power to prosecute an matter in court without fiat.
Justice Lawal-Akapo ruled that the EFCC had not disclosed enough information to sustain the allegation made against Babalakin and his co-defendants.
The judge held that the EFCC for instance did not disclose the particulars of the offences allegedly committed, when the offences took place etc.
Consequently Justice Lawal-Akapo said “the amended information filed May 7, 2013 is incurably bad and ineffective.”
The judge also held that James Ibori who was alleged to have corruptly conferred the N4.7billion on Babalakin is not a public office 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 Lagos State.
He subsequently discharged the defendants.