A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos on Tuesday dismissed the no-case submission filed by former Governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu, in response to the N7.6 billion money laundering charges preferred against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
The presiding Judge, Mohammed Idris, in his ruling, said Kalu had some explanations to make particularly on certain documents tendered by the EFCC as exhibits in evidence against him.
In a similar case of no-case submissions filed by Kalu’s co-defendants, the court ruled that they should defend themselves.
The former Governor is facing 39 count charges alongside his company, Slok Nigeria Limited; and Ude Udeogu, who served under him as the Director of Finance and Accounts at the Abia State Government House.
The EFCC first arraigned them before Justice Idris on October 31, 2016.
They all pleaded not guilty to the charges, following which the EFCC opened its case, calling 19 witnesses and tendering a lot of exhibits.
At the conclusion of the prosecution’s case , the defendants, instead of entering their defence filed no-case submission, arguing that the EFCC failed to link them with any of the charge.
They urged Justice Idris to dismiss the charges and set them free.
However, the Judge disagreed with them in his ruling on Tuesday, declaring that they had explanations to make as to the allegations made against them.
Justice Idris said: “The prosecution called 19 witnesses and tendered a number of exhibits which have been thoroughly examined. Going through the evidence of these witnesses, it appears to me that if taken as unchallenged and uncontroverted, some link might be established between the 1st, 2nd and 3rd defendants and some of the alleged offences in the light of Exhibits tendered.
“I will stop there and I will say no more, I am of the view that the defendants have some explanations to make in the light of the exhibits and the evidence so far led. Again, I will say no more. The no-case submission is dismissed.”
The judge called on the defendants to open their defence, reminding the parties that he had September ending deadline to finish the case.
Kalu’s lawyer, Mr Gordy Uche (SAN), however, pleaded with the judge for a six-week adjournment to enable Kalu go for a surgical operation.
“The first defendant has a medical appointment for surgery and the lead counsel in this matter had actually written a letter he wants us to bring to the attention of Your Lordship with respect to the surgery,” Uche said.
He pleaded with the judge to adjourn the case till September 10, 2018.
But the prosecutor, Mr Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), pleaded that the case be heard in the first week of September, bearing in mind that the judge had to conclude the case by the end of September.
Uche, however, said it was not realistic, explaining that the six-week adjournment was to avoid a situation where the case would come up and Kalu would not be available.
In a short ruling, Justice Idris said he was constrained to grant Uche’s request, thereby adjourning the case till 10th of September, 2018 for the defendants to open their defence.
In the charges, the EFCC alleged that Kalu, who was Abia State Governor between 1999 and 2007, “did procure Slok Nigeria Limited – a company solely owned by him and members of his 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 N7.1 billion “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, Jacobs, said the former 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 N7.1 billion which he was accused of laundering, the former governor and the other defendants were also accused of receiving a total of N460 million allegedly stolen from the Abia State Government treasury between July and December 2002.
The offence alleged to have been committed breached Section 427 of the Criminal Code Act, Cap 77, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990.
On their part, Udeogu, Slok Nigeria Limited, one Emeka Abone, and another fellow, Michael Udo, who were at large, were accused of collaborating with Kalu to conceal the “genuine origin” of alleged stolen funds.