Justice Lateef Lawal-Akapo of the Lagos High Court in Ikeja yesterday quashed the N4.7 billion fraud charge filed against the chairman of Bi-courtney Limited, Dr Wale Babalakin (SAN) and four others by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Ruling on preliminary objection challenging the jurisdiction of the court and the competence of the charge against them, Justice Lawal-Akapo held that the charge was incurably bad and defective.
Babalakin, Stabilini Vision Ltd, Bi-Courtney Ltd, Alex Okoh and his company, Renix Nigeria Ltd, are standing trial on a 27-count charge bordering on conspiracy, retention of proceeds of criminal conduct and corruptly conferring benefit on an account of a public action.
Specifically, the EFCC accused Babalakin and his co-defendants of fraudulently assisting convicted former Delta State governor James Ibori to transfer huge sums of money, through various parties, to Erin Aviation account in Mauritius for the purchase of a plane.
But Babalakin and other accused persons pleaded not guilty to the charge.
The defendants had instituted separate applications, urging the court to quash the N4.7bn charge, with the position that the EFCC, as a federal agency, lacked valid fiat to prosecute them in a state high court.
The defendants through their lawyers, Dr. Biodun Layonu (SAN), Tayo Oyetibo (SAN), Roland Otaru (SAN), Dr. Joseph Nwobike (SAN) and Oladapo Adeosun, had also argued that the state high court lacks jurisdiction to hear offences brought under the EFCC Act, a claim the defendants’ lawyer, Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), opposed.
Jacob contended that Section 286 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) permits state high court to entertain federal offences.
Ruling on the application yesterday, Justice Lawal-Akapo identified four issues for determination: whether the EFCC can prosecute a defendants without fiat; whether James Ibori is a public officer; whether two prosecuting authorities can jointly sign a charge, and whether the charge on the surface contains sufficient information.
The judge resolved the first issue in favour of the EFCC, holding that the commission can initiate criminal proceedings against anyone accused of economic or financial crimes without obtaining a fiat from the federal or state attorney-general.
On the second issue, the court held that Ibori, who was alleged to have corruptly conferred the N4.7 billion on Babalakin, was not a public officer as stated in the charge.
On the issue of prosecuting authorities jointly signing a charge, the judge held that it was not known to law for two authorities to jointly sign a charge; moreover, the prosecutorial power of the attorney-general of the federation cannot be shared with anyone.
The judge further held that the official of the EFCC, A. M. Yusuf, who signed the charge failed to disclose his relationship with the AGF.
On the last issue, Justice Lawal-Akapo ruled that the EFCC had not disclosed enough information to sustain the allegation against Babalakin and his co-defendants.
The judge held that the EFCC, for instance, did not disclose the particulars of the offences allegedly committed, when the offences took place.
The judge consequently discharged Babalakin and his co-defendants and threw out the matter which began in 2012 before Justice Adeniyi Onigbanjo, who was later transferred out of the criminal division of the Lagos High Court.