By AKEEB ALARAPE
After two failed attempts to stop his trial, the embattled Chairman of Bi-Courtney Limited, Mr. Wale Babalakin (SAN) is expected to appear in court today over alleged money laundering for convicted former governor of Delta State, James Ibori. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had slammed 27-count charge against Babalakin, Alex Okoh, Stabilini Visioni Ltd, Bi-Courtney Ltd and Renix Nigeria Ltd for fraudulently assisting Ibori to transfer about N4.7 billion through a third party to some foreign accounts.
A Federal High Court, sitting in Ikoyi Lagos, had in, December 21 dismissed Babalakin’s application to stop his prosecution. Delivering his ruling on the application brought under enforcement of his fundamental human rights, Justice Ibrahim Buba had described the application, filed by Mr. Wale Akoni, counsel to Babalakin, as a ‘cat and mouse game’ and held that the court lacked the jurisdiction to entertain the application. The court held that it had concurrent jurisdiction with the Lagos High Court, where EFCC had earlier dragged Babalakin and as such could not entertain the case.
“I do not find any merit in the application. The applicant cannot approach this court to enforce his fundamental human rights. “The court has a concurrent jurisdiction with the Lagos State High Court on matters touching on fundamental rights. “The applicant ought to have taken the application before the court of arraignment and challenge the authorities on his alleged harassment. “If the applicant is ill, then, he should say so before the court of arraignment as only the living can stand to face trial. “In a criminal charge, trial commences with arraignment and the learned SAN should not be afraid to stand trial.
“The police reserve the right to arrest and detain an accused without a warrant where a criminal charge is preferred against him,” Buba held. An earlier attempt to arraign Babalakin before a Lagos High Court, sitting in Ikeja, on November 29 had suffered a setback as his counsel then, Chief Ebun Sofunde (SAN) told the court, presided over by Justice Adeniyi Onigbanjo that Babalakin was on admission at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) over an undisclosed ailment. Ironically, Sofunde announced his withdrawal from the case on December 12, 2012, citing personal reasons. His withdrawal, which was contained in an application dated December 4, 2012, came as a surprise.
But with the December 21 ruling of Justice Buba the staged was set for Babalakin’s prosecution by the EFCC. Meanwhile, the embattled business mogul was last night declared wanted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in connection with an ongoing case of criminal conspiracy and money laundering to the tune of N4.7billion. According to Head of Media of the Commission, Wilson Uwujaren, the businessman was supposed to report to the commission yesterday, preparatory to his arraignment on a 27-count criminal charge before Justice Adeniyi Onigbanjo of the Lagos High Court today, but failed to do so and had allegedly gone underground.
The commission said anyone with any useful information as to his whereabouts should contact the commission in its Enugu, Kano, Lagos, Gombe, Port Harcourt and Abuja offices. A statement signed by Dipo Kehinde, media aide to Wale Babalakin read: “We don’t understand the game that EFCC is playing, This is nothing but a deep political game. Since Babalakin came out of the hospital he had reported at the EFCC office in Lagos for more than five times. He was also there on Tuesday. He is on EFFC’s administrative bail.He is not a man on the run.
We have a date in court tomorrow.” . Analysts believe that this move by the EFCC might prove unproductive as members of the public would rather report such cases only when financial rewards are attached. Babalakin is being prosecuted over his alleged involvement in laundering money for former governor of Delta State, James Ibori in 2006 when he held sway. This hide and seek game between the EFCC and Babalakin which has been on for over two months has been questioned by many Nigerians who believe the Commission is not doing enough to finally put the case to rest.