The 12-year-old N7.65bn fraud trial of a former governor of Abia State, Dr Orji Uzor Kalu, has again been adjourned indefinitely by the Federal High Court in Lagos.
The trial was fixed for Wednesday but Kalu did not show up in court.
Expressing displeasure at the absence of the former governor from court to continue his trial, the prosecuting counsel for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mr Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), accused Kalu of taking the court for a ride.
The prosecutor recalled that Justice Mohammed Idris had on November 12, 2018 revoked Kalu’s bail because he was absent from court on that day too.
Jacobs recalled that the judge was told at the last date that Kalu travelled to Germany for surgery without the permission of the court.
He recalled further that the judge ordered that the ex-governor should submit himself to the EFCC within 24 hours of his return to the country, failing which he should be arrested.
Jacobs said in view of Kalu’s absence from court on Wednesday, Justice Idris should invoke Section 352(4) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 and let the trial continue in Kalu’s absence.
“He (Kalu) kept on campaigning for his senatorial ambition, slapping the court in the face; his attitude is unbecoming,” Jacobs told Justice Idris.
Reacting, Kalu’s lawyer, Prof Awa Kalu (SAN), said he did not wish to take issue with Jacobs, except he documented his complaints in an affidavit.
However, stepping in, Justice Idris noted that though the matter was adjourned till Wednesday for continuation of trial, he would not be able to go on as the fiat given to him by the President of the Court of Appeal to hear and conclude the case had lapsed.
Justice Idris, who was elevated last June from the Federal High Court to the Court of Appeal, said without a renewal of the fiat by the Court of Appeal President, anything he did in the case would amount to an illegality.
The judge held, “This matter was listed today because it was adjourned till today for defence. What has happened is that the last fiat that was issued by the President of the Court of Appeal has expired at the end of November 2018.
“On the 10th of January, 2019, I received a fresh fiat in respect of some matters that I have started and some new matters but this particular case was not mentioned.
“For this reason, I have a strong feeling that I shouldn’t continue with proceedings in this case unless there is a further directive from the President of the Court of Appeal.
“I should not proceed further, otherwise I might be acting without authority.
“In the circumstance, I am of the view that further proceedings shouldn’t go on until I receive further information by way of fresh fiat from the Court of Appeal President. As soon as I receive further instruction, hearing notice will be sent to counsel.”
In one of the charges, the EFCC alleged that Kalu, who was Abia State Governor between 1999 and 2007, “did procure Slok Nigeria Limited – a company solely owned by you and members of your family – to retain in its account, domiciled with the then Inland Bank Plc, Apapa branch, Lagos, an aggregate sum of N7,197,871,208.7 on your behalf.”
The prosecution claimed that the N7.1bn “formed part of the funds illegally derived from the treasury of the Abia State Government and which was converted into several bank drafts before they were paid into the said company’s account.”
The prosecuting counsel, Jacobs, said the ex-governor violated Section 17(c) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2004, and was liable to be punished under Section 16 of the same Act.
Apart from the N7.1bn, which he was accused of laundering, the ex-governor and the other defendants were also accused of receiving a total of N460m allegedly stolen from the Abia State Government treasury between July and December 2002.
The prosecutor said they breached Section 427 of the Criminal Code Act, Cap 77, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990.
On their part, Jones Udeogu, Slok Nigeria Limited – Second and third defendants, respectively – one Emeka Abone, said to be at large, and another fellow, Michael Udo, also at large, were accused of collaborating with Kalu to conceal the “genuine origin” of allegedly stolen funds.
The EFCC said they were liable to be punished under Section 14(1)(b) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2004.
The defendants, who have been standing trial for 12 years, however, pleaded not guilty.
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