New trial date for Valabjhi's arms and ammunition case
The Palais de Justice which houses the Supreme Court. (Seychelles News Agency)
The Seychelles' Supreme Court on Friday set the trial date time for the Valabjhi's arms and terrorism case for July 4.
The presiding judge, Chief Justice Rony Govinden, set the date to begin hearing the illegal possession of firearms case involving prominent Seychellois businessman Mukesh Valabhji and his wife Laura, a lawyer, and three others.
The others charged in the case are 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 Seychelles Defence Forces]- and Frank Marie - a retired lieutenant colonel and presidential chief security officer.
Govinden made the announcement at the accused latest appearance amid objections from the defence that their lawyers would not be able to represent them in court.
The case relates to more than 100 firearms and over 35,000 rounds of ammunition recovered from the Valabjhi's home at Morne Blanc during a search on November 18. This came 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 trial initially was set for April but was delayed following the application for the recusal of Govinden as the presiding trial judge – which was dismissed on June 1.
Immediately before setting the new date for trial, Govinden had unblocked the couple's overseas accounts – which were frozen at the request of the Anti-Corruption Commission of Seychelles (ACCS).
The couple had argued that they had been unable to pay for their international counsel due to their bank accounts being frozen.
France Bonte, the defence lawyer of Mukesh Valabhji, told the court "that those lawyers would only begin working upon payment, which means that they are only now beginning to prepare for the case."
Govinden replied that since it had been a year and four months since charges have been laid in this case there was ample time to prepare.
"Matters of disclosure cannot stop the flow of trial proceedings," he said.
Meanwhile, Laura Valabhji – a prominent lawyer by profession – told the court that while for certain aspects of the case, she could represent herself, she would need her counsel to represent her for others.
Although the defence pushed for the illegal arms and ammunition case to be heard in October, the court maintained the trial date for July 4. It is expected to proceed from August until September.
Govinden has sent an administrative order to vacate all previous cases for all lawyers for this trial.