A Federal High Court in Lagos has fixed July 22 to resume the trial of former governor of Abia State, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu and two others, over an alleged N7.6 billion fraud brought against them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Justice Mohammed Idris, who is now a Justice of the Court of Appeal fixed the date for 13 year old trial after the President of the appellate court, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, gave him a fresh fiat to conclude the trial.
Without the special permission, Justice Mohammed Idris, who was elevated from the Federal High Court to the Court of Appeal on June 13, 2018, would not be legally empowered to return to the lower court to conclude the case.
The fiat was granted at the instance of Kalu’s Lawyer, Prof. Awa Kalu (SAN) who activated Section 396(7) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) in order to prevent the case from being transferred to another judge to start afresh.
That fiat expired in Nov 2018.
A copy of a fresh fiat sighted by our Judiciary Correspondent, stated that the trial will now commence on the 22nd of July and will continue from day to day until the trial is concluded.
The EFCC is prosecuting Kalu, his Commissioner for Finance, Udeh Jones Udeogu, and his company, Slok Nigeria Limited 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.
On July 31, 2018, Justice Idris dismissed the ‘no-case submissions’ made by Dr Orji Kalu and the other defendants and ordered them to open their defence.
But rather than open their defence, Kalu sought a six-week adjournment to embark on a trip to Germany to have surgery for an undisclosed ailment.
The defendants later challenged the jurisdiction of the judge to hear the case, arguing that he was no longer a judge of the high court.
They also filed an application seeking a stay of proceedings pending the outcome of their appeals.
Justice Idris dismissed both.
When Kanu did not subsequently make himself available for his trial, Justice Idris revoked his bail.
The judge also ordered him to submit himself to the EFCC within 24 hours of his return to the country.
On January 23, 2019 when the case last came up in court, the prosecutor, Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), complained about Kalu’s repeated absence from court, alleging that the former governor, then a senator-elect, was taking the court for a ride.
The counsel also noted that despite the court’s order, Kanu did not turn himself in to the EFCC.
“He (kalu) kept on campaigning for his senatorial ambition, slapping the court in the face; his attitude is unbecoming,” Jacobs said, while urging Justice Idris to continue the hearing in Kalu’s absence.
But in response, Justice Idris said he could not proceed with the case as a second fiat given to him by the Appeal Court President had expired in November 2018.
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