by Rachel Ogbu
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) recently informed a Lagos High Court that the chairman of Bi-Courtney Nigeria Limited, Bolanle Olawale Babalakin was plotting to flee the country.
The planned arraignment of Babalakin, who is in hospital and four others by the EFCC over an alleged N4.7 billion fraud, took a dramatic turn at an Ikeja High Court Wednesday December 12, when the lead counsel, Chief Ebun Sofunde (SAN) announced his withdrawal from the case.
However, an EFCC source told The Guardian that the businessman would be arrested as soon as he is discharged from the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH).
EFCC spokesman, Mr. Wilson Uwujiaren, declined comments to The Guardian saying, “you journalists should go to LUTH and find out what is happening instead of calling me. I won’t speak to you on that subject, I will send a press release to you on that.”
The EFCC had filed a 27-count charge against Babalakin, Alex Okoh, Stabilini Visioni Ltd, Bi-Courtney Ltd and Renix Nigeria Ltd for fraudulently assisting former Delta State governor, Chief James Ibori, to transfer various sums of money through third party to some foreign accounts under the guise of purchasing a Challenger Jet Aircraft.
The EFCC also alleged that Babalakin and his co-defendants between May and September 2012 fraudulently assisted Ibori to transfer various sums through various parties to Erin Aviation account in Mauritius for the purchase of the said aircraft.
Jacobs said Babalakin was hiding in the hospital to evade arrest, adding that the embattled businessman had even called the EFCC that he wanted to go home.
His words: “He (Babalakin) asked for a guarantee from the EFCC that he will not be arrested upon leaving the hospital, but we rejected it.
“We had an intelligence report that he wanted to leave the country.
It is our duty to ensure that he does not escape. It has happened before. Ibori left this country and was jailed in the UK. It is the duty of my client (EFCC) to ensure that this should not happen again.”
He said the application for an adjournment, which was filed by Babalakin’s counsel and his suit against the EFCC at the Federal High Court, Lagos, were aimed at stalling the arraignment.
However, Babalakin’s counsel, Chief Bolaji Ayorinde (SAN) and Dr Abiodun Layolu (SAN), said the EFCC was only making wild allegations against their client.
In the meantime, the Delta State Government has faulted reasons given by the EFCC for its refusal to return the $15 million allegedly paid as bribe to the commission’s erstwhile chairman, Malam Nuhu Ribadu, by Ibori.
The EFCC, in its additional affidavit on December 10, alleged that if the $15 million was paid to the state government, it would be paid back to Ibori.
It further claimed that money was paid to the former governor for the furnishing of his house and for his pension. No allegation of illegality was made against the Uduaghan government by EFCC, it stressed.
A statement by Information Commissioner Mr. Chike Ogeah said that like every other elected governor who had served the state, Ibori was paid his pensions entitlement and other benefits alongside his deputy under state laws.
They are Delta State Governor and Deputy Governor Pension Rights and Other Benefits Law 2005 and the Delta State Governor and Deputy Governor Pension Rights and Other Benefits (Amendment) Law 2009.
At the last sitting, Sofunde informed the court about Babalakin’s admission at LUTH over an undisclosed ailment.
He had told the court that he had earlier forwarded a letter to the court’s registrar which contained a medical report by one Dr Charles Harmon about Babalakin’s health.
Sofunde had also informed the court that Babalakin’s health deteriorated immediately after he appeared before the EFCC office in Abuja on November 26 , 2012 for questioning.
He further asked the court to adjourn the matter to allow his client recover from the undisclosed sickness.
But at the resumption of the matter yesterday, Sofunde announced his withdrawal from the defence team.
His decision to withdraw was contained in an application dated December 4, 2012, where he informed the court that his reason was personal.
He however said if his client wished to challenge his withdrawal, he may decide to tell the court his actual reason for taking the decision.
Justice Onigbanjo in response promptly granted his request for withdrawal and stood the matter down as the EFCC prosecutor (Jacobs) had earlier requested that the matter be stood down as he was attending to a sister case filed by Babalakin at the Federal High Court, Lagos seeking to stop the agency from arraigning him
But when the court resumed hearing on the matter, Chief Bolaji Ayorinde (SAN), who took over from Sofunde said two applications pending dated December 11, 2012 were pending, seeking adjournment of the trial and for it to admit the first defendant to bail.
Bolaji, who drew the attention of the court on EFCC officials’ siege to LUTH in what he said was against its directive which asked EFCC to verify Babalakin’s health status, said the application was premised on the health condition of the first defendant.
The prosecution led by Jacobs however said the alleged siege was meant to put the agency on the alert to avoid the Ibori scenario (escape).
He also asked the court for time to respond to the applications as they were only served on him on Tuesday evening.
After hearing from the counsel, the trial judge adjourned till January 17, 2013 for hearing of the pending applications and possible arraignment of the defendants.