The 13-year-old N7.65billion fraud trial of a former Governor of Abia State and senator representing Abia North senatorial district, Chief Orji Uzor Kalu, will resume at the Federal High Court in Lagos on July 22, 2019 before Justice Mohammed Idris.
The new date was fixed following a fresh fiat issued by the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Adamu Bulkachuwa to Justice Idris to conclude the case.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is prosecuting Kalu together with his former Commissioner for Finance, Ude Udeogo, and his company, Slok Nigeria Limited, on an amended 39-count charge of money laundering to the tune of N7.6 billion.
The former governor who is a chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) was alleged to have committed the offence between August 2001 and October 2005.
On October 31, 2016, the EFCC preferred a 34-count charge, bordering on N3.2 billion fraud against the accused.
The charges were, however, amended and increased to 39 counts.
Kalu and the others had each pleaded not guilty to the charges and were granted bail.
Justice Idris, who has been sitting as a trial judge in the criminal charge, was elevated to the Court of Appeal.
He had, however, been conducting the trial following a fiat, authorising him to continue with the case.
At the last adjourned date on November 12, 2018, Kalu was absent from trial, after being absent on a previous adjourned date of November 5, 2018.
Although the defence counsel had informed the court that he was away for medical treatment in Germany, the court had revoked his bail and ordered that at the point of his entry into the country, he must submit himself and all relevant travelling documents to the EFCC, failing which he would be arrested.
The court had then adjourned the case until January 23, for the continuation of trial.
When the case came up in late January, the prosecutor, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), appearing for the prosecution, informed the court that in spite of its order, the accused had refused to submit himself or his travelling documents to the EFCC.
He argued that such attitude constituted a clear disregard for the court, adding that in the circumstance, he would urge the court to give effect to the provisions of Section 352(4) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) and continue with the trial of the accused even in his absence.
According to Jacobs, the court should order the defence to call its witnesses, failing which the court is allowed by the provisions of the law, to close their case.
Responding, counsel for the accused, Mr. Awa Kalu (SAN), expressed his displeasure with the submissions of the prosecution, noting that such arguments as canvassed by Jacobs should be put in an affidavit for the defence to reply.
The court, however, in its reaction, informed parties that although the case had been adjourned for the continuation of the trial, the fiat issued by the President of the Court of Appeal had expired at the end of November 2018.
He said on January 10, he had received fresh fiat in respect of some other matters before him, adding that the case in point was not mentioned.
Idris said for this reason, he had strong doubt if he should continue with proceedings, adding that it was important he acted with abundant caution.
“I should not proceed further, otherwise, I will be acting without authority. So, in the circumstance, I am of the view that further proceedings shouldn’t go on until I receive further instructions,” he said.
The court added that as soon as such notice is received, hearing notices would be served on counsel.