Kalu’s Trial for Money Laundering, Other Offences to Begin May 16

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Tobi Soniyi in Abuja
A Federal High Court in Abuja has fixed May 16 for the re-arraignment of a former Governor of Abia State, Mr. Orji Uzor Kalu, and his co-accused for charges bordering on alleged diversion of N5.6billion belonging to the state.

The Supreme Court had on March 18, 2016, dismissed Kalu’s objection to the charges preferred against them and directed them to submit themselves for trial. The court ordered them to go and face their trial.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had in 2007 filed a 96-count charge including money laundering, against Kalu, his company, Slok Nigeria Limited, and Jones Udeogo.

Kalu and his co-defendants were accused of diverting the state’s fund while he was governor of Abia State between 1999 and 2007.
However, on February 11, 2008, EFCC amended the charges and increased the charges to 112 counts.
They challenged the competence of the charges before the trial court but the objection was dismissed. Another appeal to the Supreme Court was also dismissed. A final appeal to the Supreme Court was dismissed.

Their objection to the charges were dismissed on March 18 by the Supreme Court.
Kalu and Udeogo, who were represented by different lawyers, were present in court yesterday when the case was mentioned.

The prosecutor, Mr. Oluwaleke Atolagbe, monday handed a copy of the Supreme Court judgment to the trial judge, Justice Anwuri Chikere. He asked for time to enable him take necessary steps before the re-arraignment
Atolagbe said: “This matter is slated for mention. On March 18, 2016, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeals by the defendant.

“I will urge my lord to adjourn the case to afford the prosecution some time to take some steps. We will need about two weeks. We seek an adjournment for the defendants to take their plea.”

Counsel for Kalu, Chief Awa Kalu (SAN), and the lawyer representing Udeogo and Slok Nigeria Limited, Chief Solomon Akume (SAN), did not oppose the request for adjournment.
The judge then fixed May 16 for re-arraignment.

A five-man panel of the Supreme Court had on March 18 dismissed the defendants’ appeals challenging the competence of the charges preferred against them

In the lead judgments prepared by Justice Suleiman Galadima with respect to the two appeals (by Kalu and Udeogo), the apex court upheld the concurrent decisions of the Federal High Court, Abuja and the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal, which had both earlier dismissed the accused persons’ objection to their trial.

Justice Galadima, whose judgment with respect to Kalu’s appeal was read by Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, said: “The appellant had approached the Federal High Court, Abuja to quash the charges made against him by the EFCC.
“The court dismissed the case. We went to the Court of Appeal, Abuja Division. He lost and approached this court.
“Having considered all issues raised and arguments by parties, I come to the conclusion that I cannot, but help in dismissing this appeal for lacking in merit. It is dismissed.

“I affirm the decision of the court bellow, which rightly affirmed the decision of the Federal High Court, that it was not bound by the ex-parte order of the Abia State High Court as to vitiate the charges preferred against the appellant.
“The learned Chief Judge of the Federal High Court should assign the case to another judge for expeditious trial.”
Other members of the panel, comprising the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed; Justices Bode Rhodes-Vivour, Sylvester Nwgwuta and Datijo Mohammed.

The EFCC had on July 27, 2007 arraigned Kalu before the Federal High Court in Abuja on charges of money laundering, official corruption and criminal diversion of public funds totalling over N5bn.
On September 3, 2007 Kalu filed a motion before the court, asking for an order to strike out the charges against him.

The court dismissed the motion, a decision Kalu and Udeogo appealed to the Court of Appeal.
The Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal in its judgment delivered on April 27, 2012, dismissed the appeal filed by Kalu against the ruling of the Federal High Court, Abuja.

In the said ruling of the appeal court, Justice Ejembi Eko, who had read the judgment on behalf of Justices Kayode Bada and Regina Nwodo resolved all issues in the appeal against Kalu and his company and dismissed the appeal for lacking in merit.

Justice Eko noted that the proof of evidence attached to the 97 counts preferred against the appellants by the EFCC disclosed a prima facie case against the former governor and others.
Justice Eko said the facts raised in the proof of evidence established a prima facie case against the appellants.
He further said that as far as there was a link which prima facie is all about, the appellants had an obligation to stand trial to defend themselves.

He further ruled that the ex-parte order of May 31, 2007 by Abia State High Court, asking the Federal High Court to stay all proceedings against Orji was a racquet suit aimed at frustrating his arrest and subsequent prosecution.
“That order was an order at large, personal rather than definite. It was an order made as an ex-parte and not at the course of trial.”
He described the ex-parte motion as an abuse of court process.

On whether EFCC had the competence to charge the appellants, Justice Eko held that both the EFCC Establishment Act and the Money Laundering and Prohibition Act, (2003, 2004) had given the commission power to prosecute offenders.
“EFCC derives its competence to prosecute from section 6 and 7 of its Establishing Act. Equally, the definition of economic crime is quite wide,” he said.

The appellate court further held that the proof of evidence attached to the 97-count charge preferred against the appellants by the EFCC disclosed a prima facie case against the former governor and others.

Justice Eko also denounced the ex-parte order of May 31, 2007 by the Abia State High Court.
“That order was an order at large, personal rather than definite. It was an order made as an ex-parte and not at the course of trial.”