How Bi-Courtney boss, Wale Babalakin, helped Ibori launder billions abroad

Wale Babalakin
Wale Babalakin

The EFCC has told the court that Wale Babalakin helped James Ibori to steal Delta State blind

At the twilight of his two-term rule in Delta State, jailed former governor, James Ibori, executed a heinous fraud that ripped the oil rich state of several billions in a high-web scam that left blurry traces.

He needed a private airplane. A supplier was located in the South African nation of Mauritius. Between May and December 2006, several millions of dollars of state funds were funneled to the company through multiple third parties.

At the centre of the several strings of huge scale fund transfers, in breach of federal and state financial laws, was a certain Bolanle Olawale Babalakin.

Mr. Babalakin, has been identified by investigators as the same person as the current chairman and owner of the controversial infrastructure management consortium, Bi-Courtney, court papers bearing charges filed against the businessman, on Wednesday, show.

The documents, obtained by PREMIUM TIMES, tell a troubling story of the terrific corruption Delta State endured under Mr. Ibori.

But more comtemporarily, it presents, for the first time, what seems the unknown portrait of Mr. Babalakin, a feisty businessman with hands in so many controversial deals.

In a fast-paced twist lasting just days, Mr. Babalakin’s firm, Bi-Courtney, awarded the concession of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway for three years, lost the job this week, and the Chief Executive Officer now faces charges of corruption.

In a 27-count at a Lagos High Court, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, said Mr. Babalakin and associates, including Bi-Courtney construction group, Stabilini, Renix Nigeria Limited, and a certain Alex Okoh facilitated the fund transfers to Mauritius under the pretext of funds for a construction contract for the state.

The transfers

Between May and December of 2006, the EFCC said, more than 24 transfers were made to the company, Erin Aviation, for the supply of a Challenger Jet Aircraft.

The first transfer occurred on May 3 and involved the sum of N145.5 million while the final transfer involved $2 million on November 17, 2006.

Further transfers were executed through little-known firms, namely, Interactive Technologies, Sopetrol Oil, Casaka Nigeria Company limited, Geofluids limited, ABS limited and Hyundai heavy Industries Nigeria limited, by Mr. Babalin and his companies for Mr. Ibori, the commission said.

In all the transfers, Mr. Babalakin and his associates, the court papers said, knew the funds were the proceeds of corrupt conduct by Mr. Ibori.

Neither Mr. Babalakin nor his firm, Bi-Courtney, has commented on the charges. The firm promised to give comments but has yet to do so.

The revelations provide a new layer to the events involving Bi-Courtney this week.

After a frustrating three years as the concessionaire of the key Lagos-Ibadan expressway, a long-awaited revocation of the contract was this week announced by the federal government.

Then, Ondo State also signaled another N4.8 billion contract handled by another of Mr. Babalakin’s companies could also be cancelled.

At a House of Representatives meeting on Thursday, Works Minister, Mike Onolememen, characterized Bi-Courtney as a firm versed in violating procedures and agreements.

Such breaches, the minister said, informed the decision of the federal government to terminate the three-year-old Lagos-Ibadan road contract.

If anything, the court details affirmed those concerns.

The Babalakin role

While fronting for contracts from the Delta State Government, Bi-Courtney, Stabilini and Renix, served as a conduit for frittering state fund into foreign accounts, the court papers said.

The EFCC said Mr. Babalakin, and companies he had interest in, including Bi-Courtney, played a major in helping Mr. Ibori transfer these funds using surrogate companies.

“That you, Dr. Bolanle Olawale Babalakin, Stabilini Visioni limited and Bi-Courtney Ltd between May 2006 and December 2006 within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court did corruptly confer benefit on former Governor James Onanefe Ibori to Wit: the sum of N1, 356, 600, 000.00 (One Billion, Three Hundred and Fifty Six million six Hundred Thousand Naira),  on account of contracts awarded by Delta State Government to Stabilini Visioni limited by transferring the said Sum through various third parties to Erin Aviation account in Mauritius for the purchase of Challenger Jet Aircraft by the Said James Onanefe Ibori,” one of the 27-count charge reads.

The commission had been trying to verify Mr. Babalakin’s role in the transfers since Mr. Ibori’s investigations began.

The London Metropolitan Police, which successfully investigated Mr. Ibori leading to his conviction, also assisted with the investigations, with at least three visits to Nigeria by its officials since Mr. Babalakin’s suspicious involvement in the scam began, sources at the commission said.

However, this new charges against Wale Babalakin, the Pro-Chancellor of the University of Maiduguri, would signal what promises to be a long and protracted legal battle.

Another protracted case?

The PhD holder from the University of Cambridge is a seasoned lawyer, having been called to the Nigerian Bar in 1982; and surely has what it takes to, according to officials of the commission, frustrate the case in court.

The EFCC chairman, Ibrahim Lamorde, while lamenting the apparent lack of success in convicting high profile suspects, told lawmakers on Thursday that the ability to hire high profile lawyers, who frustrate the cases with simple legal technicalities using multiple visits up to the Supreme Court, was the reason for their non-conviction.

Some of such cases against former and serving high ranking public and private office holders have been in court since 2005.

“We have example of a case we charge to court in 2006; for this very case, we have gone to the Supreme Court twice on just interlocutory applications. They will file this, the judge will overrule them, they will go to Court of Appeal and lose there but they will still go to the Supreme Court,” he added.

Mr. Lamorde said a new style the commission was using was to confiscate the asset of such high profile personalities so that they could not use funds from such asset to frivolously frustrate the case.

“The first thing we do now is that we try to recover and confiscate the assets of individuals that we are investigating because it is only when you deprive them of their resources that you will be able to force them to stand trial,” he said.

It is yet to be seen if the commission would do so in the case of Wale Babalakin and his many companies.

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