By AKEEB ALARAPE
The much-touted arraignment of the Chairman of Bi-Courtney Limited, Dr. Olawale Babalakin (SAN) over alleged money laundering suffered a setback yesterday as his lead counsel, Chief Ebun Sofunde (SAN) withdrew from the case.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had slammed a 27-count charge against Babalakin, Alex Okoh, Stabilini Visinoni Ltd, Bi-Courtney Ltd and Renix Nigeria Ltd for fraudulently assisting convicted former governor of Delta State, Mr. James Ibori to transfer about N4.7 billion through a third party to some foreign accounts.
At the resumed hearing of the case yesterday before Justice Adeniyi Onigbanjo of a Lagos High Court sitting in Ikeja, Sofunde announced his withdrawal from the matter, citing personal reason. His withdrawal, which was contained in an application dated December 4, 2012, took everyone in the court by surprise. But the senior advocate said he was ready to make his reason for withdrawal public if his client wished to challenge his action.
At the last sitting of the court on the matter on November 29, Sofunde had told the court that his client (Babalakin) was on admission at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) over an undisclosed ailment, hence his absence in court. He told the court that he had earlier forwarded a letter to the registrar of the court in which there was a medical report by one Dr. Charles Harmon on Babalakin’s health condition.
He also informed the court then that Babalakin’s health deteriorated immediately after he appeared at the Abuja office of the EFCC on November 26, for questioning. He further asked the court to adjourn the matter to allow his client recover from the undisclosed sickness. But at the resumption of the matter yesterday, Sofunde took everybody by surprise when he announced his withdrawal from the defense team. Justice Onigbanjo granted the request of Sofunde but later stood down the case as requested by EFCC prosecutor, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) to enable him attend to a sister case filed by Babalakin at the Federal High Court, Lagos, seeking to stop EFCC from prosecuting him.
When the court resumed hearing on the matter, Chief Bolaji Ayorinde (SAN), who took over from Sofunde told the court that two applications were pending before the court dated December 11, 2012, seeking for adjournment of the trial and for the court to admit the first defendant (Babalakin) to bail. Ayorinde, however, drew the attention of the court to EFCC’s bombardment of LUTH, which he said was against the directive of the court that asked EFCC to verify Babalakin’s health status.
He said the application for bail was premised on the health condition of the first defendant. EFCC’s counsel, however, said the alleged siege by the operatives of the anti-graft commission was meant to put the agency on alert to avoid James Ibori’s scenario. Jacobs urged the court for time to respond on the applications as they were only served on him on Tuesday’s evening.
His request got the support of other counsel in the matter, which included Tayo Oyetibo, Dr. Joseph Nwobike and Roland Otaru, all senior advocates, who also demanded for more time to either be served with the court processes or to respond to them. January 17, 2013 was later fixed for the hearing of the pending applications and possible arraignment of the defendants.