Alleged N7.65bn Fraud: EFCC Objects To Kalu, Others’ Trial In Abuja

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…Ex-gov moves to stop retrial

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has objected to recommence the trial of former Abia State, Governor Orji Uzor Kalu and two others in the Abuja division of the Federal High Court as against the Lagos division where the trial earlier took place.

Kalu, his firm – Slok Nigeria Limited and a former Director of Finance in Abia State, Jones Udeogu were tried and convicted in 2019 on a 27-count charge in which they were among others, accused of diverting the N7.65billion from Abia State’s treasury.

Upon their conviction in a judgment of December 5, 2019 by the Lagos division of the Federal High Court, Kalu was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment, Udeogu got 10 years, while the court ordered that Slok should be wound up and its assets forfeited to the Nigerian Government.

But, in a judgment on May 8 last year, in an appeal by Udeogu, the Supreme Court quashed the trial, set aside their conviction and ordered a re-trial at the Federal High Court on the grounds that the trial judge, Justice Mohammed Idris had ceased to be a judge of the Federal High Court when he read the judgment, having been elevated to the Court of Appeal.

At the mention of the case on Tuesday before Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja, lawyer to the prosecution, Chile Okoroma told the court that EFCC has written two letters to the Chief Judge of the court, seeking the return of the case to the Lagos division in compliance with the order made by the Supreme Court.

Okoroma reminded the court that the Supreme Court, in an earlier judgment, directed the trial to hold in Lagos since the larger elements of the alleged offences were committed in Lagos State.

He argued that prosecuting Kalu in Abuja would amount to an exercise in futility and disobedience of the order of the Supreme Court.

Okoroma then applied for an indefinite adjournment of the case to allow the Chief Judge act on the letters by the prosecution, indicating the need for a transfer to Lagos in compliance with the order made by the Supreme Court.

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In a ruling, Justice Ekwo declined Okoroma’s application for an indefinite adjournment, but elected to adjourn till June 7, 2021 for report of the Chief Judge’s decision on the EFCC’s request for a transfer to Lagos.

The defendants were in court, with Kalu, dressed in white attire and a red cap, had his supporters and political associates attend court in large number.

Appearing unfazed, Kalu smiled broadly as he hugged and greet people freely at the end of the court’s proceedings.

Kalu, his associates and supporters even took time to pose for pictures within the court premises before departing in their luxury cars.

Earlier in court, Kalu’s lawyer, Awa Kalu (SAN) moved an application in which his client is seeking, among others, an order prohibiting the Federal Republic of Nigeria, through the EFCC, its officers, servants, others, agents, privies and any other person or bodies deriving authority from the Federal Republic of Nigeria, from re-trying him afresh on the charge, marked: FHC/ABJ/CR/56/2007 between FRN vs. Orji Kalu & 2 ors or any other charge based on the same facts, there being no extant judgment and ruling of a competent court in Nigeria mandating same.

The ex-governor is also seeking an order prohibiting the Federal Republic of Nigeria, through the EFCC (her agent), her officers, servants, others, agents, privies and any other person or bodies deriving authority from the Federal Republic of Nigeria, from re-trying, harassing and intimidating him with respect to the charge, marked: FHC/ABJ/CR/56/2007 between FRN vs Orji Kalu & 2 ors or any other charge based on same facts as he need not suffer double jeopardy.

Kalu added that should the application be granted, it should operate as a stay of proceedings until the determination of the application or until the judge otherwise orders.

Justice Ekwo has scheduled ruling on the application for Monday.

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