Dr. Olawale Babalakin (SAN)
• Lack of funds blamed for non-conviction in high profile cases
Tobi Soniyi andDele Ogbodo in Abuja
Details of the 27-count charge filed at the Lagos High Court by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on Wednesday against Dr. Olawale Babalakin (SAN) emerged on Thursday.
This is just as the commission’s Chairman, Mr. Ibrahim Lamorde, has blamed the paucity of funds for the EFCC’s inability to secure convictions in high profile cases involving public officers found to have misappropriated the public funds.
Babalakin, who was charged alongside Alex Okoh, Stabilini Visioni Limited, Bi-Courtney Limited and Henix Nigeria Limited, was accused of corruptly conferring on the former Governor of Delta State, James Ibori, the sum of N1.3 billion on account of contracts awarded by the state government to Stabilini Visioni Limited.
Babalakin was alleged to have transferred the money to Ibori through various third parties to an Erin Aviation Account in Mauritius for the purchase of a Challenger Jet Aircraft by Ibori.
He was also charged with transferring the sum of N145 million to Ibori on account of contracts awarded by Delta State Government to Stabilini using various people for the purchase of the jet.
Another N141 million was allegedly transferred by him to Ibori for the purchase of the jet.
The offences are contrary to section 98A(1)(a) of the Criminal Code Law CAP CI7 Laws of Lagos State, 2003.
EFCC also charged Babalakin with the retention of proceeds of a criminal conduct contrary to section 17(a) of the EFCC (Establishment) Act, 2004.
Under this head, he was accused of retaining the control of proceeds of financial crime in the sum of $500,000 on behalf of Ibori.
He was also accused of retaining $1 million on behalf of Ibori, which money he transferred to an Erin Aviation Account in Mauritius through Sopeetrol Oil and Gas Limited.
He allegedly retained another proceed of crimes involving the sum of $500,000 on behalf of Ibori, which he transferred to Erin Aviation in Mauritius through Casaka Nigeria Company Limited.
Other companies allegedly used to retain and transfer proceeds of crimes for Ibori by Babalakin are Geofluids Limited and Hyundai Heavy Industries (Nig) Co. Ltd.
In a related development, Lamorde yesterday blamed the lean budget of the commission as the main reason the EFCC has found it increasingly difficult to convict public officers found to have looted the nation’s treasury.
Lamorde, who made this known during the agency’s defence of its budget at the Senate, was also put on the back foot when the upper legislative chamber demanded an explanation, which must be backed by receipts, on how N500 million was spent by the commission on transportation expenses alone within the last three quarters of the year.
While appearing before the Senate Committee on Drugs, Narcotics and Financial Crimes headed by Senator Victor Lar, Lamorde stated however that despite legal process delays and some other factors, the commission recorded no less than 200 convictions this year alone, adding that majority of the convictions were for advanced fee fraud.
He said: “The commission has established an Assets Forfeiture Department that would take over the properties of any public official arrested by the commission so as to reduce his or her financial strengthen.”
Underscoring the delay in the country’s legal process as a big setback, he said: “The truth is that most cases are difficult to just conclude.
“I don’t think it is correct to say that the charges framed are not properly done or the prosecution is not presenting the case properly.”
While bemoaning the slow pace of the judicial system, he added: “We have one example of a case we charged to court in 2006; for this very case, we have gone to the Supreme Court twice on just interlocutory applications.”
According to Lamorde, most people involved in high profile cases were people with stupendous resources to drag these cases indefinitely, noting however that this could be curtailed through the assets forfeiture unit that has been created by the EFCC.
“The first thing we do now is that we try to recover and confiscate the assets of individuals that we are investigating because it is only when you deprive them of their resources that you will be able to force them to stand trial.
“Once they have access to their resources and assets, they will use it to continue to delay and drag some of these trials,” he said.
On the 2013 budget, he said EFCC had requested N6,514,525,127 for personnel cost, while N5,804,294,192 was appropriated by the Budget Office of the Federation.
He said 85 per cent of the commission’s allocation for 2012 had been released by the Ministry of Finance, adding that only N1.5 billion, representing 15 per cent of the appropriation, was still outstanding.
Lar while winding up the session, said the Senate was worried that N500 million was spent by EFCC on just travelling alone to prosecute cases.
The senator ordered the commission to report back today to explain how the money was expended and must back it up with receipts or vouchers.