By Ese Awhotu with agency report
Troubled former Governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu and two others will be tried on December 2, 2019, for an alleged fraud of N7.65bn, a Federal High Court in Lagos has ruled.
The presiding judge, Justice Mohammed Idris fixed the trial date yesterday after the prosecution and the defence adopted their written addresses and canvassed final arguments in the 12-year-old case.
Standing trial alongside Kalu are his company, Slok Nigeria Limited; and Udeh Udeogu, who was Director of Finance and Accounts at the Abia State Government House during Kalu’s tenure as governor.
In an amended 39 counts, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission 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.”
Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), the prosecuting counsel, 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.
According to the prosecutor, they breached Section 427 of the Criminal Code Act, Cap 77, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990.
However, the defendants pleaded not guilty.
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.
The prosecutor therefore urged the judge to jail the defendants as the prosecution had proved the allegations against them.
He 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.
The prosecutor also said 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.
The defence urged the court to dismiss the charges, acquit and discharge their clients.
After hearing them all out, Justice Idris fixed December 2 for judgment.