federal government yesterday amended the charges against former Abia state governor, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu reducing them from 107 to 32 counts even as his planned re-arraignment by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, before the Abuja division of the Federal High Court was stalled due to a pending appeal before a Supreme Court.
The charges against the former governor border on money laundering and illegal diversion of public funds to the tune of N5.6billion.
Kalu was alleged to have committed the fraud while in office as the governor of Abia State between 1999 and 2007.
Though he challenged the competence of the charge at various courts since his arraignment on July 27, 2007, the Supreme Court refused his application to quash the charges and ordered that the trial should commence afresh before a new judge.
Listed as second and third defendants alongside Kalu are Udeh Jones Udeogu and Slok Nigeria Limited.
Kalu who was in court with the 2nd accused person, Udeh Jones Udeogu was represented by Chief Awa Kalu (SAN) and Goddy Uche (SAN).
But when the case was called, counsel to the third defendant, Chief Solo Akuma (SAN), who announced his appearance for Udeogu and Slok Nigeria Limited, drew the attention of the court to the pending appeal by his client, Slok Nigeria Limited, before the Supreme Court, which has not been heard.
He further informed the court that briefs in the appeal had been filed and exchanged, but no hearing date had been fixed for the appeal.
He also submitted that the appellant had applied to the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, and the director of litigation of the Supreme Court for a hearing date.
“In the circumstances, we hereby apply for an adjournment to enable us sort out the appeal,” he stated.
Responding, prosecution counsel, Oluwaleke Atolagbe confirmed the pendency of the appeal before the Supreme Court, but informed the court that the prosecution had filed an amended charge and served on the defendants.
The trial judge, Justice Anwuli Chikere later adjourned till June 30 for mention.
In the amended charge, Kalu was alleged to have while being the governor of Abia State in 2003 procured Slok Nigeria Limited to retain its account domiciled with the First Inland Bank Plc, Apapa branch, Lagos, the sum of N200 million, and that the sum formed part of the funds illegally derived from the treasury of Abia State government through Standard Trust Bank, now United Bank for Africa, UBA.
The offense is said to be contrary to Section 17(c) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2003, and punishable under section 16 of the same act.
“That you, Orji Uzor Kalu, Udeh Jones Udeogu, Slok Nigeria Limited and Emeka Abone (now at large), between 13th August, 2003, and 9th October, 2003, did collaborate in concealing the genuine origin of an aggregate sum of N200 million which formed part of the funds illegally derived from the treasury of Abia state government through Standard Trust Bank (now UBA plc), and which sum was converted into four bank drafts and subsequently paid into the account of Slok Nigeria Limited with the then First Inland Bank Plc, and you thereby committed an offense punishable under section 14(1) (b) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2004.
“That you, Orji Uzor Kalu, Udeh Jones Udeogu, Slok Nigeria Limited and Emeka Abone (now at large) between May 2002 and December 2005 within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court, did conspire among yourselves to commit an offence to wit: laundering of funds illegally derived from the treasury of the Abia State government and you thereby committed an offence punishable under section 17(a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2004.”
Before the aborted arraignment, the defendant had firstly challenged the competence of the charge against them, as well as the jurisdiction of the High Court to hear and determine the case.
Following refusal by the trial court to quash the charge, Kalu took the case before the Court of Appeal in Abuja.
The appellate court in a unanimous judgment upheld the competence of the charge, adding that the High Court was constitutionally empowered to exercise jurisdiction on the trial.
Dissatisfied with the judgment, Kalu approached the Supreme Court to set-aside the concurrent findings of the two lower courts.
The former governor, through his lawyer, Chief Awa Kalu (SAN), pleaded with a five-man panel of justices of the apex court headed by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, to quash the criminal charge against him.
He contended that the EFCC failed to establish a prima-facie nexus linking him to the ingredients of the offence contained in the charge.
It was his contention that the proof of evidence the anti-graft agency adduced against him did not nail him to the commission of any crime.
However, the apex court in a unanimous judgement dismissed the appeal, ordering the appellant to go and face his trial before the High Court.
While upholding the Court of Appeal verdict, Justice Suleiman Galadima who delivered the lead verdict said the apex court was satisfied that the former governor had a case to answer pertaining to allegations that were levelled against him by the EFCC.
The apex court ordered the chief judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Ibrahim Auta, to re-assign the case to another judge to enable the trial to commence afresh, as it also ordered accelerated hearing of the matter.


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