The Seychelles Supreme Court on Thursday declined and dismissed the application of Mukesh Valabhji and his wife Laura for the recusal of the Chief Justice, Rony Govinden, as the trial judge in the firearms and money laundering cases.
The Valabhji couple based their recusal application on several allegations stating among other things, that they had a social relationship with the Chief Justice, that he had personal animosity towards them, and that he is a material witness in the firearms case.
Govinden denied the allegations and declined to recuse himself and Court had to determine whether the Chief Justice can proceed to hear the cases or whether a different judge needs to be assigned.
In his judgement, Justice Burhan said, “I am satisfied having considered all the aforementioned circumstances set out by the applicant, that, firstly, the applicants have not established actual bias. Secondly, I find that the unsupported and vague facts seeking recusal of the Chief Justice do not satisfy the perceived bias test.”
He added that “This Court is of the view that a fair-minded and informed observer having considered all the circumstances peculiar to this case, would not come to the conclusion that there was a real possibility of the Presiding Trial Judge – Chief Justice – being biased.”
The case relates to more than 100 firearms and over 35,000 rounds of ammunition recovered from the Valabhji home at Morne Blanc during a search on November 18, 2021. 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 prosecution alleges that the funds were then 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.
The trial initially had been set for April but was delayed following the application for the recusal of Govinden as the presiding trial judge.