Mukesh and Laura Valabjhi appeared before the Supreme Court on Friday. (Rassin Vannier, Seychelles News Agency)
(Seychelles News Agency) – A Seychellois couple accused of bribery and money laundering appeared in the Supreme Court on Friday after their lead lawyer recused themselves and their foreign lawyer left the country pending a work permit .
Lawyer Frank Elizabeth said he would no longer represent Mukesh and Laura Valabhji in the “missing $50 million” case, which involves funds that disappeared from a government account in 2002. He told the judge chairman, Chief Justice Rony Govinden, that he had recused himself as he felt it would be in the “best interests of his clients” that they find alternative representation.
Elizabeth did not respond to calls from SNA to explain why he backed out of the case.
Govinden gave the Valabhji couple more time to find a new lead attorney and prepare the case.
Laura Valabhji has been charged with money laundering while her husband, Mukesh, a prominent businessman and former chairman of the Seychelles Marketing Board (SMB), has been charged with conspiracy to commit acts of official corruption. The defense has yet to plead its case and no trial date has been set.
They are also suspected of terrorism following a cache of weapons found at their residence in Port Glaud on the main island of Mahé.
Meanwhile, British lawyer Miranda Ching of global law firm Kobre & Kim had been hired to work alongside Elizabeth in defending the Valabhjis in the corruption case as well as their separate possession case. weapons and ammunition.
She was sworn in at the Supreme Court on January 20 before Justice David Esparon and presented her nomination papers to Chief Justice Govinden, who outlined the terms of her work on the Valabhji case, which includes an occupation permit (GOP), a surety fee of SCR50,000 ($3,771) and attachment to a local law firm.
On January 21, Ching was involved in an altercation in court with May De Silva, CEO of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACCS), regarding the alleged lawyer Ching was providing to Elizabeth in the courtroom, though she is still barred from practicing, pending GOP approval. Ming left Seychelles the same day, according to immigration officials.
On January 26, Kobre & Kim issued a press release stating that their lawyers “were intimidated” by CASC while attending court proceedings.
According to the law firm, the commission had alleged that the attorneys “were involved in fraudulent activity and violated immigration and employment laws” and that they “vigorously deny these allegations.”
Jonathan Huth of Kobre & Kim said: “What we have seen so far in the Supreme Court of Seychelles can best be described as a show trial, based on a politically motivated prosecution case riddled with errors of fact, procedural defects and violations of the basic principles of due process.”
The CEO of ACCS refuted all the allegations made and said none of them were based on facts in a press release on Friday.
Invalid work permit application
In an interview Friday, Principal Immigration Secretary Alain Volcere told reporters that his department had received a GOP request from foreign lawyers that was not valid.
“There was a submission for a GOP that was incomplete due to missing documents and this deficiency was reported to the law firm,” Volcere explained.
SNA attempted to contact Kobre & Kim for further clarification on the issue, but received no response.
Four other people have been charged in the case brought by ACCS over the missing $50 million, which was a grant given to the government of Seychelles, an archipelago in the western Indian Ocean, by the United Arab Emirates in 2002.