A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos on Thursday convicted and sentenced a former governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu to 12 years imprisonment over a N7.1bn fraud.
Justice Mohammed Idris jailed the Senator from Abia State after he found him guilty of the 39 count charge brought against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Kalu was convicted by Justice Idris alongside his firm, Slok Nigeria Limited and Udeh Udeogu, a Director of Finance and Accounts at the Abia State Government House during the former Governor’s tenure.
Idris sentenced Kalu as follows:
On counts one, two, three, and four, he sentenced the convict to five years imprisonment on each count, while on counts six to 11, he sentenced him to three years imprisonment each.
On counts 23 to 33 he sentenced the first defendant to three years imprisonment on each count, while on counts 34 to 38, he sentenced him to 12 years imprisonment each.
On the last count 39, he sentenced him to five years imprisonment.
For the second defendant, (Udeogo) the court sentenced him to three years imprisonment on counts 23 to 33, and sentenced him to 10 years imprisonment on counts 34 to 38, while he sentenced him to five years imprisonment on counts 39.
For the Company, Slok Nigeria Ltd, the court ordered that it be wound up and all its assets forfeited to the federal government.
The court held that the terms of imprisonment shall run concurrently.
While reviewing the facts of the case, Justice Idris held that the anti-graft agency proved its case beyond reasonable doubt.
The judge, who was in 2018 elevated to the Court of Appeal, further stated, “I, sincerely, cannot find my way clear in finding these defendants not guilty of the offences as charged.”
He commended the investigation crystallising into the charge as in-depth and conclusive, saying “No gaps were left unfilled. This is the acceptable standard.”
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“I hold the view that the prosecution has established its case against the defendants; it did not fall short of the standard required by law in money laundering offences.
“It is clear upon the facts before this court that the prosecution had this case conclusively investigated before opting to bring this charge against the defendants.
“In other words, the prosecution did an in-depth and conclusive investigation.
“In totality, I, sincerely, cannot find my way clear in finding these defendants not guilty of the offences charged.
“Having reviewed all that has been provided by the prosecution in terms of oral and documentary evidence, I am inclined to resolve the singular issue for determination in favour of the prosecution herein,” the judge held.
Justice Idris also maintained that the judiciary was committed to the fights against corruption and it was left for the prosecutorial agencies to conduct thorough, comprehensive and conclusive investigations before coming to court.
He said, “In this case, the investigation was clearly conclusive; no gaps were left unfilled. This is the acceptable standard.”
Justice Idris said from the evidence before him, he found that Kalu violated his oath of office as governor.
He said, “With due respect, I hold the view that the first defendant has failed in his obligation; it is unacceptable. With due respect, I state that the first defendant acted contrary to his oath of office and he shall accordingly be held responsible for his actions.
“All of those who have aided and abetted him will also be dealt with.
“Let me remind those who hold positions of authority in this country that they shall be held responsible for their conducts.
“When they act contrary to the law, the same law will catch up with them. I will like to borrow a leaf from the words of the late Dele Giwa, who stated that, ‘No evil deed will go unpunished; any evil done by man to man will be redressed, if not now, certainly later. If not by man, then by God, for the victory of evil over good is temporary’.
“It is in this light and circumstances that I again find the defendants guilty.”
The judge described money laundering as “a grave offence and crime against humanity.”
“Money laundering offences are anti-human and among the most dangerous. It is condemned worldwide because it is a crime against humanity.
“The defendants are, no doubt, first-time offenders and for this reason and keeping with the spirit of the ACJA, the court will temper justice with mercy but only in accordance with the dictates of the law.’” the judge concluded.
The EFCC had arraigned Kalu, his Commissioner for Finance, Udeh Jones Udeogu, and his company, Slok Nigeria Limited before the court 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.
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.
But the defendants pleaded not guilty.