Weak evidence against Seychellois lawyer Laura Valabhji, says Kobre & Kim defence team in 'missing $50 million case'
Palais de Justice which houses the Supreme Court. (Judiciary of Seychelles)
(Seychelles News Agency) - The Seychelles Supreme court will give a decision on March 25 on the application for the release on bail of Laura Valabhji, an accused in the high-profile case of the missing $50 million, intended as aid from the government of the UAE in 2002.
The application for bail on Tuesday was made by Valabhji's defence team, consisting of foreign lawyers from global firm Kobre & Kim - James Lewis and Miranda Ching. Both lawyers were sworn in to practise law in Seychelles to represent Valabhji in the case.
Laura Valabhji has been charged with money laundering while her husband, Mukesh Valabhji, a prominent businessman and former chairman of the Seychelles Marketing Board (SMB), a former state-owned food and commodities importer, has been charged with conspiracy to commit official corruption. Both are also suspected of terrorism as a result of a cache of arms found at their residence at Port Glaud on the main island of Mahe.
Although there are six other accused in the corruption case, Laura Valabhji's bail hearing was held independently from the others.
Defence lawyer claims 'not one jot' of evidence against Laura
When presenting his arguments to the court as to why his client should be released on bail, Lewis said that "there is simply not one jot, one iota, one piece of evidence that directly implicates Laura Valabhji in this alleged offence."
Lewis said that the evidence presented so far by the Anti-Corruption Commission of Seychelles (ACCS) against Valabhji is weak and they are assertions by the anti-corruption officer rather than based on actual supporting evidence.
He added that Valabhji has a strong case and, therefore, does not have the motivation to flee and she would like to clear her name and is confident she can do so.
Concerning the possibility that she flees the country, Lewis said the courts should consider that his client's roots are in Seychelles, an archipelago in the western Indian Ocean, and that this claim was based on the assertion of the ACCS officer.
"There is no reason to suspect that she will not abide by the rulings of the courts," he said.
He also emphasised the right to liberty and the need to balance the presumption of innocence and the need to protect the public in deciding whether to grant or deny bail.
ACCS expects it will be ready to go to trial in one year, says defence team
Lewis pointed out that Laura Valabhji has already been on remand for four months and that the ACCS has indicated that it will not be ready for trial for another year.
For that reason, the defence has asked that Valabhji be released on bail if the court so decides with conditions such as the surrender of passport, curfew, payment of bond security and surety.
The ACCS' lawyer, Anthony Juliette, gave his submissions in opposition to the bail application stating that evidence is strong and that Seychelles' courts have previously justified delays in the trial of complex cases.
Mukesh's net worth estimated at $900 million
The prosecution from the Attorney General's office argued that while Valabhji does have roots in Seychelles, she also has close links overseas.
The fact that her husband Mukesh's net worth is $900 million, will also make it easier to flee the country.
Lewis countered this by saying that since all their accounts have been frozen, it would be impossible to gain access to the funds.
The case brought forth by the Anti-Corruption Commission concerns $50 million which went missing after the funds were granted to the government of Seychelles by the United Arab Emirates in 2002. The funds were then transferred to a bank account of the SMB at a branch of the Bank of Baroda in England. SMB is today known as the Seychelles Trading Company (STC).
The prosecution alleges that the missing funds were returned to Seychelles, an archipelago in the western Indian Ocean, to pay for hotels sold in the privatisation of the COSPROH holdings, a state-owned enterprise that owned several hotels.