The Chief Justice, Ronny Govinden, yesterday ruled in the firearms/terrorism case that the trial should be postponed, so that the defence can argue the issue of payment of lawyers’ fees.
A new trial date will be fixed on December 14.
The Chief Justice stated that the issue could have been raised by the defence months ago and that the proper way of dealing with it is to apply to the Court to resolve the issue. The learned Judge made no criticism of the Anti-Corruption Commission of Seychelles (ACCS) or the Republic in his decision to postpone the trial.
The defence had argued that they could not be ready for the firearms/terrorism trial to start on December 1 (today) for 3 main reasons: i) the issue of payment of legal fees from Mr Valabhji’s business accounts, currently under restriction by the ACCS, is yet to be resolved; ii) for the defence to be served with outstanding evidence in the case; iii) for the defence to have time to instruct experts to deal with ballistics reports and other matters.
As stated in court, the allegation made by the defence lawyers that the ACCS had refused to allow payment of legal fees is not correct. The ACCS has always maintained that Mr Valabhji is entitled to representation of his choice at his own expense, a right guaranteed under the Constitution. The ACCS has always accepted that Mr Valabhji, one of the wealthiest men in the Seychelles, may use personal funds to pay for his and his wife’s legal fees, and Mr Valabhji could at any time have applied for restrictions to be varied on any of his personal bank accounts for his legal fees to be paid.
This issue for the ACCS 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 this year, the Chief Justice ruled that ACCS Restriction Notices imposed on Company bank accounts may be lifted subject to the following conditions being met: 1. Mr Valabhji must prove that he has a proprietary interest in the Company (for fees to be paid up to the limit of his financial interest in that Company); 2. There must be a particularised invoice for bona fide legal services by a firm or legal practitioner; 3. There is compliance with the relevant Company Law of the Seychelles with the decision to settle payment by the Company. It is this third condition that is yet to be resolved. The Court has to be satisfied that the decision of a Company to pay the legal fees of a Director to defend private criminal charges complies with the Companies Law of the Seychelles.
The ACCS 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.
The issue came to court because although legal fees of $450,000 were paid in January 2022, by Mr Valabhji from a bank account in Singapore, an invoice for legal fees amounting to $1.6 million (R22 million) was raised in July 2022, for Zil Pasyon Resorts Ltd to pay, which was queried by ACCS and later withdrawn; subsequently, an invoice for £540,000 (R8,750,000) was raised in October 2022, for Felicite Island Development Ltd to pay, which the ACCS invited the Court to rule on the principle of whether that should be paid from a personal bank account or a Company’s business account.
Following the Court ruling, on November 14, 2022, Mr Valabhji signed a Director’s Resolution that his Company, Zil Pasyon Resort Ltd, should make available up to four million Euros (R57,000,000) for the payment of Mr Valabhji’s and Mr Leslie Benoiton’s legal fees; and on the same date, Mr Valabhji signed a Director’s Resolution that another of his Companies, Intelvision Ltd, pay an undisclosed amount for payment of legal fees for local counsel and any bail bond.
Whether this complies with Companies Law is ultimately an issue for the Court. The Court directed that the defence have until December 14 to file a Notice of Motion if they wish to argue the point.
The ACCS is committed to ensuring that the message goes out that no one is above the law and that those who commit crime should be brought to justice.
The ACCS respects the fundamental human rights of all citizens of Seychelles. As the learned Judge ruled, the decision to adjourn any case is a matter for the Court alone, not the parties, and the ACCS respects that decision.
Source: Seychelles Nation