Judge orders release of Babalakin’s passport

Wale Babalakin

Mr. Babalakin can travel to South Africa for treatment.

Justice Adeniyi Onigbanjo of a Lagos High Court, Thursday, ordered the release of the international passport of Wale Babalakin, who is facing a N4.7 billion money laundering charge.

Mr. Babalakin, billionaire lawyer and owner of Bi-Courtney Nigeria Limited, is billed to travel to South Africa to treat his hypertension and other undisclosed ailments.

The judge, however, ordered that the passport be returned before March 27, the day Mr. Babalakin would try to convince the court to quash the criminal charges against him.

Blowing hot and cold

The Senior Advocate of Nigeria, alongside Alex Okoh, his co-accused, was granted bail in January solely on “self recognition.”

But that was after a series of adjournments preceding the duo’s arraignment that led the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, to send armed operatives to the Lagos University Teaching Hospital where Mr. Babalakin was bedridden.

Rotimi Jacobs, the EFCC counsel, had described the purported illness, in November last year, as a

“tactic to frustrate his arraignment.”

Incidentally, Mr. Jacobs did not oppose the application, on Thursday, to grant Mr. Babalakin leave to travel abroad, merely urging the court to ensure that he did not travel to a country where he could easily abscond from trial.

Mr. Babalakin is accused of using his company to help convicted former Delta State Governor, James Ibori, to siphon public funds.

His protracted arraignment, and now delayed trial, has continued to be filled with intrigues.

In December, while Ebun Sofunde, his lawyer, was pleading at a Lagos High Court to adjourn his client’s arraignment on account of his illness, another lawyer was arguing, on the same day, at the Federal High Court, in Lagos, to stop the arrest and prosecution of Mr. Babalakin.

After he found out about the suit at the Federal High Court, an “embarrassed” Mr. Sofunde, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, resigned his position as Mr. Babalakin’s lawyer.

Justice Mohammed Idris of the Federal High Court struck out the suit.

A week later, Mr. Babalakin instituted the same suit before another judge at the Federal High Court, drawing scathing criticisms from civil society groups.

Again, Ibrahim Buba, the judge, dismissed the suit, advising him to abandon his “cat and mouse game” and face trial.

After his “sudden illness” forced the court to adjourn twice, in December, Mr. Babalakin finally reported to the EFCC on Christmas Eve.

The commission allowed him to go home.

On the eve of his arraignment on January 17, the EFCC declared Mr. Babalakin wanted, issuing a statement describing his physical features and asking “anybody having useful information” to contact the commission at their offices across Nigeria.

On January 17, Mr. Babalakin was arraigned before Justice Onigbanjo.

The Bi-Courtney boss pleaded not guilty to all 27 counts.


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