Valabjhi's illegal arms and anti-terrorism trial starts at Seychelles' Supreme Court
(Judiciary of Seychelles)
(Seychelles News Agency) - An illegal arms and anti-terrorism case trial started Monday in Seychelles' Supreme Court.
The persons charged in the case are prominent businessman Mukesh Valabjhi and his wife Laura, a lawyer. Also charged in the same 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.
The presiding judge, Chief Justice Rony Govinden, began the hearing of the case, which 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.
All the accused appeared before the Supreme Court and were read their amended charges amended by the prosecution on Wednesday, June 28. All the accused pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The trial was initially set for April but was delayed following the application for the recusal of Justice 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).
Despite the court releasing the couple's funds in Singapore, they argued again on Monday that they had been unable to pay for their international counsel due to their bank accounts still being frozen.
When addressing the court, Laura Valabhji - a prominent lawyer by profession -explained that the Central Bank in Singapore had not released the funds as they were yet to receive 'proof of release from the Seychelles Courts".
Govinden replied that since the courts had already ordered the funds to be released, it was up to the accused and their lawyers to sort out the payment issues.
He added that as technology has evolved there should be ways for the counsel to appear online to represent the couple together with the others representing them- namely France Bonte and Samantha Aglae.
Meanwhile, prosecution counsel, Stephen Powles, made his opening statement before the Supreme Court, providing a summary of the case so far, which included the five accused arrests and how some of the weapons were found in concealed places in the Valahbji couple's residence at Morne Blanc.
The Court adjourned until Tuesday morning when the prosecution will bring in its first witnesses in the case.