Valabhji case: Illegal firearms case postponed, couple to reappear in court December 14
The illegal possession of firearms case involving prominent Seychellois businessman Mukesh Valabhji and his wife Laura, a lawyer, and three others will not be heard in the Supreme Court of Seychelles on December 1 as initially planned.
The Valabhji couple filed a motion for postponement of the trial in the firearms and prevention of terrorism case on Tuesday.
The case relates to more than 100 firearms and over 35,000 rounds of ammunition recovered from the Valabhji home at Morne Blanc during a search on November 18 after the couple was arrested in relation to a case of money laundering of a missing $50 million of funds granted to the government of Seychelles by the United Arab Emirates in 2002.
The counsel for Laura Valabhji, Samantha Aglae delivered oral submissions before the court addressing legal fees, ongoing disclosure and review of documents under the legal professional privilege.
On Wednesday, the court delivered its ruling on the motion for postponement of the trial in the firearms and prevention of terrorism case and stated that all accused will appear in court on December 14 at 9 a.m.
Aside from the Valabjhi couple, three other persons have been charged in the ongoing case by the Supreme Court — Leslie Benoiton – a senior officer in the Seychelles Defence Forces (SDF), Leopold Payet – a former chief of the Seychelles People’s Defence Forces [the former name of the SDF]- and Frank Marie – retired lieutenant colonel and presidential chief security officer.
According to the court report on Wednesday, the application appears to take a form of an ultimatum setting out pre-conditions of the Valabjhi couple which need to be fulfilled and only then can the trial commence.
The presiding judge, Chief Justice Rony Govinden, said that the court “will not allow such ultimatums and interference with the Court’s management of its own cases and emphasised that it is at the Court’s discretion to decide whether the trial should be postponed or should proceed.”
On the lack of disclosure, Govinden said that it does not mean that the trial cannot proceed, it may mean that if the Republic fails to disclose certain materials, prosecution will not be able under certain circumstances to rely on the undisclosed materials at trial.
With regard to the issue that the defendants must be given adequate time and facilities to prepare the defence, he said the Court needs to assess the defence as a whole.
In relation to the issue of payment of legal fees, which the defence is claiming that the Anti-Corruption Commission of Seychelles (ACCS) is refusing to pay, the Court said that it is neither new nor recent and that earlier this month, it issued guidelines to be followed in its order so that the parties resolve the issue.
The court has ordered that the Valabhji couple file before the court necessary separate applications within 14 days relating to release of funds for legal fees in order to resolve this issue.
With regard to the disclosure issue, Govinden held that if the Republic does not intend to rely on the materials in issue, they should communicate it to the accused persons.
Meanwhile, the ACCS reiterated in a press statement that “the allegation made by the defence lawyers that the ACCS had refused to allow payment of legal fees is not correct.”
The ACCS said that the issue was whether the payment of legal fees in a company director’s private criminal proceedings is appropriate for a hotel or telecoms business to be funding.
On November 10, the Chief Justice ruled that ACCS Restriction Notices imposed on company bank accounts may be lifted subject to some conditions being met.
The ACCS said it “will vary the Restriction Notice in respect of any Company account as soon as the conditions imposed by the Court are met. In the meantime, it remains open to Mr Valabhji to nominate personal bank accounts for his legal fees to be paid.”