There are several applications to frustrate the N4.7bn money laundering case.
Less than one month after it granted Wale Babalakin leave to travel abroad for medical check-up, a Lagos High Court, Wednesday, ruled that the billionaire lawyer be allowed to travel again.
The Bi-Courtney boss is accused, alongside Alex Okoh, of laundering N4.7 billion on behalf of the convicted former Delta State Governor, James Ibori.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, said that the defendants committed the act through their companies – Stabilini Visioni Ltd, Bi-Courtney Ltd, and Renix Nigeria Ltd.
Mr. Babalakin, however, is expected to return to the country 72 hours before his yet to be fixed trial date.
Adeniyi Onigbanjo, the trial judge, said that the health of the defendant is priority “no matter how apprehensive we are that trial will be delayed.”
“After viewing the letter for his medical appointment… It is hereby ordered that the EFCC releases his international passport to enable him travel,” said the judge.
“The applicant should ensure that he returns the documents within 48 hours of his return to the country, and within 72 hours of the trial date,” he added.
A plethora of applications from the defendants, including a pending suit at the Court of Appeal, has continued to delay the trial more than two months after arraignment.
At the last sitting in February, Lateef Fagbemi, Mr. Babalakin’s lead counsel, urged the court to entertain two applications that seek to quash the charges against his client.
On Wednesday, Joseph Nwobike, counsel to Bi-Courtney Ltd, brought a fresh application praying the court to “strike out” the charges brought against his client.
“My own application is to ‘strike out.’ The first defendant’s (Mr. Babalakin) is to quash. There’s a difference within the etymology of the context of that word,” said Mr. Nwobike, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
Mr. Nwobike argued that if Mr. Babalakin’s application at the Court of Appeal succeeds, it would have a ripple effect on the other defendants facing trial at the Lagos High Court.
“The legal effect of that appeal is that it will bring proceedings here to an end,” Mr. Nwobike said.
“They (EFCC) filed a cross appeal that they have a right to proceed here.
“By their cross appeal, they have emptied their right into the cross appeal. Both themselves and ourselves should be excused from this court,” Mr. Nwobike added.
Rotimi Jacobs, EFCC counsel, faulted Bi-Courtney’s application on the grounds that it was not a party to the matter at the Court of Appeal.
“This information was filed (at the Federal High Court) on 21st November 2012. The judge said that preliminary steps were not followed and struck out the case. They now filed an appeal. That is the case before the appeal,” said Mr. Jacobs, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
“It’s the most ridiculous application I’ve ever heard. The 4th defendant (Bi-Courtney) is not a party to that appeal, and he is saying because of the appeal your Lordship should dismiss the order.
“It is so absurd that this kind of application could be filed. It’s so unmeritorious and an abuse of process,” Mr. Jacobs added.
The EFCC counsel further said that the Bi-Courtney lawyer was relying on a matter that had been struck out by the Court of Appeal, on March 8, and which he did not inform the court.
“This application is not only an abuse of process, it’s purely to waste the precious time of the court. He’s not a party to the matter at the federal court. It’s only a party that can benefit from that proceedings,” Mr. Jacobs said.
Defendant’s Presence Unimportant
Wednesday’s hearing was held inside a capacity filled court room, a cumulative sum of 29 counsels appearing for the five defendants.
The judge began sitting at 11:15 a.m., forty five minutes after Mr. Babalakin breezed into the room donning a dark blue suit over a white shirt and purple tie.
Justice Onigbanjo, while adjourning to rule on the applications, said that the presence of Mr. Babalakin at the ruling is not compulsory.
“Adjournment for ruling will not take much time and the applicant’s presence may not be required,” said Mr. Onigbanjo.
“I can take those applications in his (Mr. Babalakin) absence. He is not the counsel, he’s not going to argue,” he added.
The judge adjourned till May 7.