Saturday, 18 May 2013
Why The EFCC Will Have A Tough Task Prosecuting Wale Babalakin
A new twist was today introduced to the planned trial of shady businessman Wale Babalakin as a Federal High Court judge, Mohammed Idris, issued a surprise order effectively halting Mr. Babalakin's arraignment for fraud before a Lagos High Court.
As prosecutors, reporters and court officials waited for Mr. Babalakin’s appearance, his lawyers claimed that he had suddenly fallen ill and was receiving treatment at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital. They therefore pleaded with the judge to postpone the trial. As soon as prosecutors left the court room they received an order from a Federal judge ordering that all forms of activity be ceased until further hearing was scheduled. The new date the Federal judge set for further hearing conflicted with the date Mr. Babalakin’s trial is scheduled to commence at the Lagos High Court- December 12 2012.
Mohammed Idris, the Federal High Court judge at the center of the latest judicial maneuvers to stop Mr. Babalakin’s trial, is a son of former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Legbo Kutigi. The former CJN had advised his son, Mohammed, to change his last name. The name change was a ploy to enable the former CJN secure appointments for two of his sons into the Federal High Court during the Olusegun Obasanjo administration at the same time. Mr. Obasanjo is Wale Babalakin's godfather and benefactor. A third son of Mr. Kutigi, Ibrahim, was given a job at the Petroleum Equalization Fund shortly after the 2007 elections, as opposition parties mounted a legal challenge to the “election” of the late President Umaru Yar'adua the AGF had to personally intervene to keep the junior Kutigi at his PEF job.
While one of Mr. Kutigi’s sons, Justice Mohammed Idris (whose order today blocked Mr. Babalakin’s trial), was appointed to the Federal High Court, another of the former CJN's sons named Abubakar Idris Kutigi was appointed to the Abuja Federal Capital Territory High Court. Several judicial sources told SaharaReporters that the two judges have established a reputation as “justices for hire.”
Mr. Babalakin’s use of the ruse of illness to shield himself from criminal prosecution dates back to the mid-1990s when he was arrested and arraigned for looting funds from the defunct CTL Bank based in Victoria Island Extension in Lagos. Mr. Babalakin, who was the then chairman of the bank, was accused of helping himself to depositors’ funds.
The Abacha regime arrested Mr. Babalakin and took him to the Enugu Division of the Failed Banks Tribunal for trial. But in a maneuver that bears eerie resemblance to the present one, a Federal High Court headed by Justice Alfa Belgore ruled that the tribunal could not try Mr. Babalakin. The tribunal then ruled that Mr. Babalakin be kept in prison custody pending the resolution of the intervening court order. Shortly after his detention in Enugu Prisons, Mr. Babalakin fraudulently obtained a medical report requesting that he be transferred to the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital for "treatment." He consequently spent two years in the hospital. During the period of his ostensible illness and hospitalization, he reportedly got his wife pregnant.
After his release, Mr. Babalakin hitched up with James Ibori, a sleek and desperate vagrant newly returned from London where he had had two convictions for relatively small crimes.
Mr. Ibori, who is serving a 13-year jail sentence in the UK, would later become the governor of Delta State and Babalakin’s friendship with Ibori led to the unprecedented looting of Delta state treasury, which is now source of the planned trial.
Despite his shady past, Mr. Babalakin was later bestowed with the status of Senior Advocate of Nigeria and later appointed as a member of the Body of Benchers of Nigeria. The body is responsible for administering the call to bar of legal practitioners and the discipline of the legal practitioners in Nigeria. In addition, he was appointed Pro-Chancellor of the University of Maiduguri in Borno State.
In yet another interesting twist, Mr. Babalakin’s construction firm built the Lagos courtroom where his trial was slated to take place. Each of the court buildings was originally awarded to be built for N800 million by the Lagos State government.
However, Mr. Babalakin reportedly arm-twisted the subsequent civilian regimes in Lagos State, including former Governor Bola Tinubu, to vary the contracts claiming that costs had skyrocketed. He ended up receiving N2 billion for each of the high court buildings, according to a source in the Lagos State government.
Mr. Babalakin’s father, Bolarinwa Oyegoke Babalakin, retired as a justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. A source who has known the Babalakins for a long time said the elder jurist often used his wide connections within judicial and legal circles to help shield his fraudulent son from the long arms of the law. One legal observer told Saharareporters that it would be impossible to prosecute Mr. Babalakin because of his father's influence. “Besides, several judges are on his payroll, including those who regularly use his high-priced guest house in Abuja for temporary accommodation,” said the source.
Mr. Babalakin is also known to be very close to Nigeria’s Attorney General, Mohammed Bello Adoke. Mr. Adoke, whose reputation for corruption and influence peddling rivals that of his predecessor, Michael Aondoakaa, has intervened on Mr. Babalakin’s behalf, a source at the EFCC told SaharaReporters. “Since we declared Chief Babalakin wanted for money laundering, the AGF has made it clear to us that we should be soft with his friend,” said a source who works for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
Even so, Mr. Babalakin's legal troubles may prove hard to wish away so quickly. The EFCC source disclosed that Mr. Babalakin’s case is linked to former Governor Ibori's larger money laundering case that spans three continents. Mr. Ibori's paper, the Daily Independent, has orchestrated a steady campaign portraying Mr. Babalakin as a victim of a power-hungry EFCC. “Considering what we know about the man [Mr. Babalakin], I have no doubt that he will not escape justice in Nigeria,” said our EFCC source. He added: “But if he manages to escape here, they will eventually get him in Britain or the US.”