The Federal High Court in Lagos on Tuesday fixed December 2, 2019 for judgment in the trial of a former Governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu and two others, who were on tried for a N7.6 billion fraud.
Justice Mohammed Idris fixed the date after the prosecution and the defence adopted their written addresses and canvassed final arguments in the 12-year-old case.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) arraigned Kalu, his Commissioner for Finance, Udeh Jones Udeogu, and his company, Slok Nigeria Limited before the on an amended 39 count charge.
They were alleged to have used the following banks to perpetrate the alleged fraud, Manny Bank, Spring Bank Plc,( now Heritage Bank), the defunct Standard Trust Bank, now United Bank for Africa Plc (UBA) and Fin Land Bank, now First City Monument Bank (FCMB).
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.
The accused persons pleaded not guilty to the charge.
In an amended 39 counts, the anti-graft agency accused them of conspiring and diverting N7.65bn from the coffers of the state.
In one of the counts, the EFCC alleged that Kalu, who was Abia State Governor between 1999 and 2007, “did procure Slok Nigeria Limited – a company solely owned by you and members of your family – to retain in its account, domiciled with the then Inland Bank Plc, Apapa branch, Lagos, an aggregate sum of N7,197,871,208.7 on your behalf.”
The prosecution claimed that the N7.1bn “formed part of the funds illegally derived from the treasury of the Abia State Government and which was converted into several bank drafts before they were paid into the said company’s account.”
The prosecuting counsel, Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), said the ex-governor violated Section 17(c) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2004, and was liable to be punished under Section 16 of the same Act.
Apart from the N7.1bn, which he was accused of laundering, the ex-governor and the other defendants were also accused of receiving a total of N460m allegedly stolen from the Abia State Government treasury between July and December 2002.
The prosecutor said they breached Section 427 of the Criminal Code Act, Cap 77, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990.
In an attempt to prove the allegations, the prosecution called 19 witnesses.
The defendants testified on behalf of themselves in an attempt to deny the allegations.
On Tuesday, the prosecuting counsel for the EFCC, Mr Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), urged the judge to jail the defendants as the prosecution had proved the allegations against them.
Jacobs said the 2nd defendant had already admitted to the offence both in his extrajudicial statement and under cross-examination.
“The admission is binding on all the defendants,” the prosecutor said.
He added that contrary to Kalu’s statement that Abia State did not have as much as N7bn during his administration, information from the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation showed total allocation to Abia State under Kalu was N137bn.
However, the defence urged the court to dismiss the charges, acquit and discharge their clients.
While adopting his written address, Kalu’s lawyer, Prof. Awa Kalu (SAN) faulted the prosecution’s lawyer, Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) over the use of ‘offensive language’ against his client.
Kalu drew the court’s attention to Pages 107 and 109 of the prosecution’s written address wherein it was stated that, “The first defendant knew that he could not face the rigour of cross-examination and that his falsehood will be exposed through the fire of cross-examination, that was why he declined to be cross-examined”.
Expressing his displeasure at the statement, Kalu urged the court to direct the prosecution’s lawyer to withdraw the paragraph failure which he will be prepared to address the court on the issue.
According to him, his client’s decision to opt for making of statement rather than being cross-examined is a statutory choice which cannot be queried by any lawyer.
The silk added that it is only the court that could decide whether his client’s case amounts to falsehood or not.
Responding, EFCC’s lawyer, Rotimi Jacobs justified the inclusion of the paragraph in his written statement saying he is not willing to withdraw it.
In his intervention, Justice Idris said he will address all the concerns raised by both lawyers in his judgement.
Earlier, Udeogu’s lawyer, G.E. Ukegbu, while adopting his written address said the prosecution has failed to prove that the bankdrafs under consideration in the case were paid to the 3rd defendant (Slok Nigeria Ltd).
He added that contrary to the prosecution’s position, there was no admission of any crime by his client. He urged the court to discharge and acquit the 2nd defendant of all counts against him.
Slok’s lawyer, David Ndah, also adopted his written address which he said was dated 16th October, 2019 and filed on the 17th October, 2019.
After listening to the lawyers, Justice Idris fixed December 2 for judgment.