Update: Babalakin’s moves to quash N4.7bn fraud charges fixed for March

Wale Babalakin

 Babalakin is being prosecuted for allegedly laundering N4.7 billion through his company, Bi-Courtney Limited.

A billionaire lawyer and businessman, Wale Babalakin, will tell a Lagos judge on March 27 why the criminal charges brought against him should be dropped.

Mr. Babalakin and Alex Okoh, are accused by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, of laundering N4.7 billion through the former’s company, Bi-Courtney Limited.

Both had pleaded not guilty to all 27 counts.

Last month, the court adjourned to hear the application by Mr. Babalakin to quash the charges against him on the grounds that the court lacks the competence to entertain the suit.

However, on Monday, Mr. Babalakin’s lawyers said that they had filed an additional application to stop his prosecution, this time on the grounds that the matter is an abuse of judicial process designed for their client’s “harassment.”

‘Abuse of court’

Lateef Fagbemi, Mr. Babalakin’s lead counsel, while “stepping down” their first request, an adjournment of the matter pending the outcome of their suit before the Court of Appeal; urged the court to entertain the two applications that seeks to quash the charges against him.

Adeniyi Onigbanjo, the trial judge, advised that both applications be incorporated into each other and harmonized as one “so as to save the court’s time.”

“The two are substantially the same. Both of them have the same effect of terminally determining this suit,” the judge noted.

After initially insisting that both applications be heard separately, Mr. Fagbemi succumbed to pressure from other defendants’ lawyers as well as from the judge.

Monday’s adjournment means that the actual trial of Messrs Babalakin and Okoh continues to be on hold two months after they were charged.

Rotimi Jacobs, counsel to the EFCC, said that the first defendant (Mr. Babalakin)’s strategy is to delay his trial.

“It is an abuse of court, filing two applications on the same grounds asking for the same relief. It is a gross abuse of process,” a visibly angry Mr. Jacobs said.

In his ruling, Mr. Onigbanjo said that he was adjourning to “allow for a harmonized, fresh application.”

“The first defendant shall file a harmonized application within seven days,” the judge said.

‘A lawyer of repute’

30 lawyers appeared for the five defendants, and the court room was already bursting to capacity an hour before sitting began.

When Mr. Babalakin arrived, he headed straight to sit in the dock, acknowledging greetings from fellow senior counsels.

Mr. Fagbemi’s request that his client be allowed to sit anywhere but in the dock was turned down by the judge.

“I urge your lordship to allow the first defendant to be accommodated under Section 210 (of the Administration of Criminal Justice in Lagos State) so that he can sit by us here or, at least, move away from the dock,” Mr. Fagbemi, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, said.

“He is a lawyer of repute,” he added.

Mr. Jacobs argued that such a decision would be a miscarriage of justice even before the trial had begun.

“We must be careful because justice must be seen to be done. If he (Mr. Babalakin) is removed from the dock and the other (Mr. Okoh) who is a banker stays, is that justice?”

The judge ruled that they simply sit in the dock.

“Section 210 is only for defendants who appear on a summon. It is not applicable here. This defendant has been arraigned. They have taken their pleas,” Mr. Onigbanjo said.

 


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