A Federal High Court, Lagos, today, resumed hearing of the trial of former Abia State, Governor, Mr. Orji Uzor Kalu and two others, over alleged N7. 6 billion fraud, which had been stall for sometimes now, following the renewal of the fiat given by the President of the Court of Appeal Justice Buka shua to Justice Mohammed Idris to conclude the matter which is part heard.
Orji, now a senator of the federal Republic of Nigeria, representing Abia North Senatorial district, is being tried before Justice Mohammed Idris, now an Appeal Court Judge, on 34 counts charge of the offence alongside his company, Slok Nigeria Limited and his former commissioner of finance, Udeh Jones Udeogu.
They are being tried by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
At the resumed hearing of the matter today, the prosecutor, Mr Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) told the court that the matter is for the defence to open their case, as the prosecution had closed its case.
But Orji’s counsel, Chief Awa Kalu (SAN) in his response affirmed the position of Jacobs, adding that he had by a letter dated July 15 2019, after receiving the notice of hearing informed the court that he will not be available in court today because of the election petition he is managing.
Kalu (SAN) also stated that he, however, decided to come to the court in person to explain his predicament.
“My lord I have to run to Lagos without the case file because my secretary is bereaved and not in Abuja, for that reason, I would not be able to proceed”, (Kalu SAN) said.
The SAN also told the court that the second explanation he has is that the second and third defendants were not represented and that since the trial is a joint one, it would be improper to proceed in their absence.
He therefore pray for an adjournment to would be convenient for all the parties.
Responding to Orji’s counsel request for adjournment, the prosecutor Jacobs (SAN) prayed the court to direct the first defendant, Orji Kalu to open his defence even if not much to show that at least something tangible has been done and achieved for the day.
Justice Idris while ruling on whether the trial should continue in the absence of the second and third defendants, said: “since counsel to second and third defendants were served with the notice of hearing for the day and they were absent and did deem it fit to send any of the counsel that have been appearing with them in the matter, the proceedings of the day will go on in their presence”.
Consequently, former Abia State governor commenced his defence.
Senator Orji while being led in evidence by his counsel, told the court that he earn a living as a manufacturer home made goods until few weeks ago when he became a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
When further probed by his counsel of what are the real lines of his manufacturing, the defendant said he manufactured Tomato paste and other household use.
On why he was in court, Kalu admitted that he is in court standing trial in a 34 counts of alleged N7.6 billion fraud and that he has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
At this point Awa Kalu (SAN) asked for adjournment which was not opposed to by the prosecutor Mr Jacobs (SAN).
Consequently, Justice Idris has adjourned the matter till August 26, for continuation of trial at 10 a.m.
Orji and other defendants were first arraigned before the court on the said counts October 31, 2016.
They both all pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The prosecution after calling several witnesses and tendered several exhibits which were admitted by the court, closes its case, which made the defendants to file a no-case-submission.
However, the defendants’ no-case-submission was dismissed by the court on July 31, 2018.
The development however made the court to called on the defendants to open their defence on the allegations.
EFCC in an amended charge marked FHC/L/56C/08, Dr. Kalu and other defendants were alleged to have allegedly diverted about N3.2 billions from Abia State Government’s treasury between 2001 and 2005.
They were also alleged to have used the following banks to perpetrate the alleged fraud, Manny Bank, Spring Bank Plc, the defunct Standard Trust Bank and Fin Land Bank, now First City Monument Bank (FCMB).
In counts one to 10, Uzor Kalu was alleged to have between August 13, 2003 and August 10, 2005, while he was the Abia State Governor, procured Slok Nigeria Limited, the company solely belongs to him and his family members, retained in his account domiciled with the Apapa branch of First Inland Bank Plc, the total sum of N2. 502, 600 billion, which formed parts of funds Illegally derived from the treasury of Abia State government, through defunct Manny Bank which were converted into several bank drafts before they were paid into the account of Slok Nigeria Limited.
In counts 11 to 20, Slok Nigeria Limited and one Emeka Abone, said to be at large, were also alleged to have between April 29, 2003 and August 10, 2005, retained in their various accounts domiciled with the Apapa branch of First Inland Bank now FCMB, the total sum of N2.493 billion, on behalf of Orji Kalu, who was then the Executive Governor of Abia State, and that the money formed parts of funds Illegally derived from the treasury of the state government, through Manny Bank.
In count 22 to 33 of the charge, Kalu, Udeh Jones Udeogu, Slok Nigeria Limited and Emeka Abone, who were said to be at large, were alledged to have between August 13, 2003 and August 10, 2005, collaborated and concealed the genuine origin of the total sum of N2.187,400 billion, which formed parts of funds Illegally derived from the treasury of Abia State government, through Manny Bank and converted and paid the said sum into the account of Slok Nigeria Limited, with the Apapa branch of First Inland Bank Plc.
While in count 34, Orji Uzor Kalu, Udeh Jones Udeogu, Slok Nigeria Limited and Emeka Abone said to be at large, between May 2002 and December 2005, conspired among themselves to commit offence of money laundering of funds Illegally derived from the treasury of Abia State government.
The alleged offences according to the EFCC are contrary to sections 17(c) 16, 14(1)(b)17(a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2003, and sections 427 of the same Act.