A Lagos High Court today continued to hear arguments on two applications  filed by Erastus Akingbola, a former boss of the Intercontinental Bank, and Bayo Dada, his alleged accomplice in financial crimes. Mr. Akingbola and his accomplice, who reportedly ran Tropical Securities Ltd, are accused of stealing N47.1 billion from the bank.

Mr. Akingbola is seeking the court’s permission to travel abroad on medical grounds, while Mr. Dada is asking the court to compel the EFCC to review his bail conditions.

In a bid to win a favorable ruling for his client, Mr. Akingbola’s counsel,  Wole Olanipekun (SAN) reminded Justice Adeniyi Onigbanjo of his own decisions in other similar cases. He recalled that case of Wale Babalakin, the chief executive of Bi-Courtney Ltd., accused of helping launder funds stolen from Delta State by former Governor James Ibori from Delta, now serving a 13-year jail term in the United Kingdom. Justice Onigbanjo had ordered that the Mr. Babalakin’s travel passport be returned to him on the condition that the suspect must provide the passport within 72 hours of the court’s request for it.

Mr. Akingbola’s defense lawyer, Wole Olanipekun (SAN), also cited the presiding judge’s decision in a case brought by the Federal Government against two men, Mahmud Tukur, a son of the PDP national chairman, Bamanga Tukur, and Abdullahi Alao, an Ibadan-based businessman – both men charged with fuel subsidy fraud. In that case, Justice Onigbanjo had allowed Mr. Alao to accompany his purportedly ailing son for treatment abroad.
“But in this case, my Lord, the first defendant is not accompanying his son, he is the one particularly who needs medical attention,” Mr. Akingbola’s lawyer said. Invoking another high profile  financial crime suspect, the defense attorney recalled the case of Mr. Ibori, stating that a different Nigerian judge had given the former governor freedom during his trial for money laundering in Nigeria. SaharaReporters had detailed how the judge in that case, Marcellus Awokulehin, received $5 million to jeopardize Mr. Ibori’s trial. Mr. Awokulehin ultimately acquitted Mr. Ibori of more than 150 money laundering and corruption charges. Later, the former governor pleaded guilty to some of the same charges at a Southwark Crown Court in the UK.

In his response, the EFCC counsel opposed Mr. Akingbola’s application to travel abroad ostensibly for medical reasons. He stated that the cases cited by the suspect’s lawyer succeeded because the prosecution did not oppose the applications. He noted that the EFCC was opposing Mr. Akingbola’s application with detailed affidavits. The EFCC’s lawyer noted that the opposition was based on the fact that the fraud suspect, Mr. Akingbola, can be treated within Nigeria.
In a written response to the application, the EFCC  listed  ten medical  institutions within Nigeria capable of giving adequate treatment to the suspect.

An investigation by the EFCC revealed that Mr. Akingbola and his supposed doctor were abroad in 2009. The EFCC informed the court that  Mr. Akingbola’s application to travel abroad on medical grounds was a convenient ploy. The EFCC’s counsel also told the court that the doctor who authored the letter to Mr. Akingbola attached as “Evidence 1” stated in the said letter that he would be referring Mr. Akingbola to other medical professionals. According to the EFCC, this made the genuineness of the rogue banker’s claimed medical challenge more doubtful.

In a separate application, the lawyer for the second defendant, Mr. Dada, Taiwo Osipitan (SAN) argued that his client be allowed to return to his business as a stock broker. He insisted that his client was a stock broker and would need to trade on the floor of the market during the period the EFCC requires him to report. The lawyer added that he was concerned about his own fees, arguing that he could only be paid his legal fees if his client was allowed to go about his business. “My service is not free,” declared the lawyer.

Justice Onigbanjo adjourned the case till Thursday, April 11 when he is expected to rule on the two applications.

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