Two weeks ago, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) announced that it had called off the lease for two projects, a hotel and conference center located around the domestic wing of the Murtala Muhammed airport, MMA2 in Lagos.
The director of legal services, FAAN, Mr. Mark Jacobs said by the agreement, the concessionaire entrusted with the projects, Bi-Courtney Nigeria Ltd was to have completed them in 2008 and despite an extension till 2009, and the projects still remain uncompleted in 2013.
Chairman of Bi-Courtney, Dr. Wale Babalakin however insists that his company has a court order restraining FAAN from taking over the lease.
On this episode of law weekly with our judiciary correspondent, Shola Soyele, both men argue the legality of their different positions.
The Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) says companies linked to businessman, Wale Babalakin currently owed the Corporation over N60 billion.
AMCON’s lawyer, Olisa Agbakoba, who disclosed this at a press conference in Lagos, said Mr Babalakin’s insolvency arose due to the loans granted his companies by First Bank and Guaranteed Trust Bank (GTBank), which currently remain unpaid.
The AMCON lawyer presented documents at the press conference to buttress his claims.
He advised Mr Babalakin to drop the litigation option and return to AMCON for negotiation.
“The most convenient way out of the dispute was for Babalakin to approach AMCON and seek the structuring of his debt,” he said.
Mr Agbakoba queried the B-Courtney’s boss’ decision to repossess the property on 43A, Afribank Street, Victoria Island, which was shut last Friday by court bailiffs upon an ex-parte order made on February 5 by Justice Chukwujeckwu Aneke of the Federal High Court, Lagos.
He said, “He (Babalakin) got loans from First Bank and GTBank. He has not been able to service the loans. He is fighting a battle that he cannot win. He should come to AMCON for settlement.
“I challenge him today, if he comes to AMCON, we will be ready to welcome him. If he comes today, he will be shocked because of the terms he will get. AMCON is not out to kill businesses. Its aim is to help businesses resolve the problem created by debt” he said.
He challenged Mr Babalakin to approach AMCON with evidence of his claim that the Federal Government owes him N132 billion by virtue of a March 3, 2009 judgment and other information.
“My advice for my friend, Babalakin is that he should pay his debt or come to AMCON and negotiate with these facts that he said he has. If this judgment is true, let him come to AMCON with it. Let him call me. I will take him to AMCON and the whole thing will be resolved. Others have done so before. So, he will not be the only one to ask for the restructuring of his loan,” Mr Agbakoba said.
Mr Babalakin had on Monday said his company, Bi-Courtney is not indebted to AMCON or any Federal Agency, neither was its office property mortgaged to any bank.
He had exhibited a court order dated the 5 April 2012 which shows that Bi-Courtney has a judgment credit of N132 billion in its favour, with the court directing that any debts to the federal government should be deducted from the amount.
The Chairman of Bi-Courtney Nigeria Limited, Wale Babalakin has reacted to media reports alleging that the Asset Management Company of Nigeria (AMCON) has taken over its office building at 43A Afribank street, Victoria Island over a N13.5 billion debt.
Mr Babalakin, who is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), at a press briefing on Monday said his company, Bi-Courtney is not indebted to AMCON or any Federal Agency, neither was its office property mortgaged to any bank.
He exhibited a court order dated the 5 April 2012 which shows that Bi-Courtney has a judgment credit of N132 billion in its favour, with the court directing that any debts to the federal government should be deducted from the amount.
“We are massively in credit; we do not owe any dime, yet we are being portrayed as debtors,” he said.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on Thursday arraigned the embattled Chairman of Bi-Courtney, Wale Babalakin along with 4 others before a Lagos High court in connection with criminal conspiracy and money laundering to the tune of N4.7 billion on behalf of the convicted former Delta State governor, James Ibori.
The EFCC had on Wednesday issued a statement that “the businessman, who was supposed to report to the commission today (Wednesday) preparatory to his arraignment on a 27-count criminal charge before Justice Adeniyi Onigbanjo of the Lagos High Court tomorrow, January 17, 2013 failed to do so, and has gone underground.”
Based on the non-appearance of the businessman the EFCC’s office, the agency had declared Mr Babalakin wanted.
However, the Bi-Courtney boss had faulted the action of the EFCC saying “I have been in regular touch with the EFCC and have reported to the commission every other day.”
When the charges were read to him, Mr Babalakin pleaded not guilty to all 27 of them.
After his Arraignment, his lawyer moved an application that he be admitted on bail on grounds of self-recognisance. The Counsel to the EFCC did not oppose the application but asked that the court to give Mr Babalakin such conditions that will ensure that he continues to show up for trial
Justice Adeniyi Onigbanjo thereafter admitted the Bi-Courtney boss to bail on self-recognizance. The only condition attached is that he must deposit his passport with the EFCC who must not release it without express permission of the court.
Mr Babalakin was charged before Justice Onigbanjo on a 27-count of conspiracy, retention of proceeds of a criminal conduct and corruptly conferring benefit on account of a public action.
The offences, according to the EFCC are contrary to Section 17(a) of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Establishment) Act 2004.
Efforts to arraign the defendants were stalled on November 29 and December 12 last year after Mr Babalakin’s counsel told the court that he had been admitted at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi-Araba, Lagos.
Mr Babalakin was arraigned alongside Alex Okoh, Stabilini Visioni Limited, Bi-Courtney Limited and Renix Nigeria Limited for fraudulently transferring N4.7 billion on behalf of Mr Ibori.
The embattled Chairman of Bi-Courtney Highway Services Limited, Wale Babalakin on Friday failed in a second attempt to stop the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) from prosecuting him on money laundering charges.
A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos and presided by Justice Ibrahim Buba dismissed Mr Babalakin’s suit seeking, among other reliefs, an order barring the police and the State Security Service from arresting him in connection with charges of money laundering.
Justice Buba said it was wrong for the applicant to approach the court to enforce his fundamental human right when there was a pending criminal charge against him at the state high court. He said the personal liberty of an individual was not absolute. He said it will not augur well for the peace and progress of the society if any person with a criminal charge in a court approaches another to enforce his fundamental human right; nothing that ”nobody is above the law, no matter the person’s position or status”.
He said Mr Babalakin as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria should not be afraid to face the court and, therefore, dismissed his application as lacking in merit.
The Counsel to the EFCC, Rotimi Jacobs had told the court that the commission is vested with the power to investigate, arrest and prosecute persons for financial crimes. He also told the court that Mr Babalakin did not abide by the terms of the administrative bail granted him by the anti-graft agency.
On the issue of Mr Babalakin’s ill-health which his counsel, Wale Akoni made reference to, Mr Rotimi said that there was nothing before the court on the current state of the suspect’s health.
“It is not a case of denial of fundamental human rights but a case of non-compliance to enjoy that right. The suit is intended to gag the EFCC so that they will not take him to court”, Mr Rotimi said.
Before today’s ruling Justice Buba had on Monday December 17, 2012 refused to grant an ex-parte order restraining the EFCC from arresting or detaining Mr Babalakin without hearing from the respondents. Rather, the judge ordered the suspect to serve the respondents to enable them respond to the motion on notice.
Another court had on December 15, 2012 dismissed a similar application by Mr Babalakin for an order of prohibition against the EFCC and the Attorney General of Federation from arraigning him before the Lagos High Court on the grounds that the application was defective as it failed to comply with Order 35 Rule 4 of the Federal High Court Civil Procedure Rules, which require the applicant to depose to an affidavit after serving the court papers on the parties in the suit.
The judge held that failure to depose to such affidavit and file same before the court had robbed the court of its jurisdiction to entertain the matter.
The court vacated the order it earlier granted the applicant permitting him to institute the prohibition suit against the EFCC and subsequently awarded N5, 000 cost against the applicant.
Mr Babalakin, alongside Alex Okoh, Stabilini Visioni Limited, Bi-Courtney Limited and Renix Nigeria Limited are scheduled to appear before an Ikeja High Court on January 17, 2013 to take his plea on a 27-count charge of offences bordering on money laundering preferred against him by the EFCC. The suspects allegedly transferred various sums of money on behalf of the former governor of Delta State, James Ibori, through third parties to some foreign accounts under the guise of purchasing a Challenger Jet Aircraft.
They were to be arraigned before Justice Adeniyi Onigbanjo of the Lagos High Court Ikeja on November 29, 2012. The arraignment was stalled as Mr Babalakin failed to show up, claiming sudden illness that necessitated his hospitalization at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital.
While his lawyers were pleading with Justice Onigbanjo to adjourn the arraignment to enable Mr Babalakin to recover from his illness, he was attempting to stop his trial before Justice Mohammed Idris of the Federal High Court.
The lead defence counsel to Mr Babalakin, Ebun Sofunde has withdrawn from the case, citing personal reasons.
A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos on Thursday struck out an application filed by the Managing Director of Bi-Courtney, Wale Babalakin, seeking an order of certiorari and prohibition against his arraignment by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on money laundering charges.
Ruling on the application by Mr Babalakin for an order of prohibition against the EFCC and the Attorney General of Federation from arraigning him before the Lagos High Court, Justice Idris Mohammed held that the application was defective as the applicant did not file service and serve same properly.
He therefore dismissed the case for non-compliance with court rules and awarded the sum of N5000 against the applicant.
Justice Idris equally dismissed the preliminary objection by the EFCC that the court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the applicant’s suit and that the application is incompetent and an abuse of court process.
Justice Idris had on November 29, 2012 granted leave to Mr Babalakin to apply for an order of prohibition to review the legality and constitutionality of the 27 count criminal charges preferred against him at the Lagos High Court.
The order was granted the same day the businessman was to be docked alongside four others before Justice Adeniyi Onigbanjo of a Lagos State High Court, Ikeja for fraudulently transferring various sums of money on behalf of the former governor of Delta State, James Ibori, through third parties to some foreign accounts under the guise of purchasing a Challenger Jet Aircraft.
He failed to show up, claiming a sudden illness that necessitated his hospitalization at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital. However, the EFCC through its lawyer, Rotimi Jacobs, challenged the ruling.
At the last adjourned date, December 13, Mr Jacobs had urged the court to strike out the application for want of jurisdiction and lack of competence.
He argued that the court lacks the jurisdiction to entertain the application, and that the application was incompetent and amount to abuse of court process as the reliefs sought were not available in law.
He added that information before any court is for that court to deal with and that the Federal High Court cannot exercise powers over the State High Court. “What they are doing here is a gagging suit and I urged the court to dismiss it.
But Wale Akoni, counsel to Mr Babalakin told the court that an issue of interpretation had arisen regarding the leave of prohibition granted the applicant as the respondent had taken the view that there was no order of stay against them.
He further told the court that despite the order of the court, the EFCC had continued to lay siege to the hospital where the defendant is receiving treatment for undisclosed ailment.
He therefore urged the court to reiterate and reinforce with some measure of clarity the effect of the ruling against the respondent.
He said they were equally in court because the commission has no power to prosecute his client at the Lagos State high Court as section 19(1) of the EFCC Act is unconstitutional.
He said that there was no valid statutory power available to the respondent to file charges against the applicant.
He further added that the Commission ought to report to the AGF but that the Commission has not done that.
However, Mr Jacobs told the court that the matter before it was hearing of the substantive suit and the motion of preliminary objection. He said the order of court was unambiguous and needed no further interpretation.
The EFCC lawyer said the matter before the court was simple and that it was whether the respondent has power to initiate criminal proceedings and whether they followed the right procedures.
He said the powers conferred on the AGF or the AG of the State to initial and prosecute is not exclusive. “The EFCC can initiate criminal proceedings against anybody”, he said.