Breaking News: Court grants EFCC leave to dock Ex-Gov Kalu
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, on Monday, gave the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, the nod to arraign the former Governor of Abia State, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu on May 16.
Kalu who was hitherto answering to a 107-count corruption charge, will enter fresh plea to an amended 112-count charge dated February 11, 2008.
Orji Uzor Kalu
Trial Justice Anwuli Chikere granted EFCC the leave to re-arraign the former governor after she was furnished with judgment of the Supreme Court, which on March 18, held that the defendant has a criminal case to answer.
Kalu will be arraigned alongside his firm Slok Nigeria Limited and his alleged accomplice Mr. Udeh Jones Udeogu.
Shortly after the trial court was served a copy of the apex court verdict, EFCC lawyer, Mr.Oluwa Leke Atolagbe, applied for an adjournment to enable the agency to effectively “prepare for the case”.
His application was not opposed by Kalu’s lawyer, Chief Awa Kalu, SAN, and that of the 2nd and 3rd defendants, Chief Solomon Akuma, SAN.
Basically, the charge against the defendants borders on money laundering and illegal diversion of public funds to the tune of N5.6billion.
The fraud was allegedly perpetuated while Kalu held sway as the governor of Abia State between 1999 and 2007.
Though the former governor was initially docked before the high court on July 27, 2007, however, for the past eight years, the 1st defendant, through various interlocutory applications, frustrated moves by the anti-graft to open its case against him.
He firstly challenged the competence of the charge against him, 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 verdict, Kalu approached the Supreme Court, begging it to set-aside the concurrent findings of the two lower courts.
The former governor, through his lawyer Chief Kalu, SAN, pleaded 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.
Nevertheless, the apex court, in a unanimous judgment on March 18, dismissed the appeal, even as it ordered 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 has a case to answer pertaining to allegations that were levelled against him by the EFCC.
Besides, 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 de-novo (afresh).
The apex court also ordered accelerated hearing of the matter.
Trial Justice Binta Murtala Nyako had on July 27, 2007, granted Kalu bail in the sum of N100 million with two sureties in like sum.
The court directed that the two sureties must be tax payers with evidence of regular payment for three consecutive years.
The court equally seized the travelling documents of the defendant, warning that he must always apply for leave to travel out of the country. Vanguard