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Finally, EFCC arraigns Babalakin, others over N4.7bn Ibori's loot

By The Citizen
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Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has finally arraigned Chairman, Bi-Courtney Highway Services, Dr. Wale Babalakin, for allegedly laundering N4.7bn for convicted former Delta State Governor James Ibori.

The EFCC late on Wednesday declared Babalakin wanted as he was said to have failed to report at its office, preparatory to  his arraignment on Thursday.

Arraigned along with Babalakin at a Lagos High Court, Ikeja, on Thursday were Alex Okoh, Stabilini Visioni Limited, Bi-Courtney Limited and Renix Nigeria Limited.

Part of the 27 counts slammed on the accused included using the money to   purchase a Challenger Jet  aircraft from Erin Aviation  in Mauritius on behalf of Ibori between May and December 2006.

Thursday's proceedings were devoid of accusations and counter-accusations between Babalakin's lawyers and the EFCC's counsel, a feature of two previous court sessions, when the Bi-Courtney boss arraignment failed on the account of his  absence from court.

The prosecuting counsel, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), alleged that Babalakin and his two firms, Stabilini Visioni Limited and Bi-Courtney Ltd,   'did corruptly confer benefit on former Governor James Onanefe Ibori.'

The prosecution also accused Babalakin and the four other accused of 'retention of proceeds of a criminal conduct' on behalf of Ibori.

Among the firms fingered in the charge to have been used for the transfers of the money to Erin Aviation are Interactive Technologies/TN Focus and Supetrol Oil and Gas Ltd.

According to the prosecution, the alleged offence of 'corruptly conferring benefit on account of public action' contravenes  Section 516 of the Criminal Code Law, CAP C17, Laws of Lagos State, 2003.

It also said the accused's retention of proceeds of a criminal conduct is contrary to Section 17 (a) of the EFCC  (Establishment Act 2004)

Babalakin and Okoh, who both pleaded not guilty to the counts for themselves and for the three accused firms, were, after taking their plea, released on bail 'on self-recognition'.

The presiding judge, Justice Adeniyi Onigbanjo, in granting the prayer as canvassed by the counsel for the duo, however, said they must deposit their travel passport with the EFCC as 'a precautionary measure'.

Though Jacobs did not oppose the separate bail applications, he objected granting it on the basis of 'self reognition'.

Babalakin's counsel, Mr. Wale Akoni (SAN),  urged Onigbanjo to consider his client's status as member, Body of Benchers, the Pro-Chancellor of the University of Maiduguri and the Chairman, Forum of Pro-Chancellors of Nigerian Federal Universities.

Granting  Babalakin's prayer, Onigbanjo said, 'The court is aware of all the considerations cited and it is aware of the status of the defendants in the country. The defendant is hereby granted bail on the basis of self-recognition.'

The judge adjourned till February 25 for the hearing of the applications by all the accused seeking the quashing of the charges as they alleged that same were incompetent.