A Federal High Court in Abuja on Monday, has defferred the trial of former Governor of Abia State, Orji Kalu Kalu until the Supreme Court decides in case on appeal which the former Governor has instituted at the apex court.
This as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) amended the charges against Kalu the third time.
The charge marked FHC/ABJ/CR/56/07, was entered before the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja on a day trial Justice Anwuli Chikere was to commence hearing on an initial amended 112-count charge the anti-graft agency preferred against Kalu and two others on February 11, 2008.
The development on Monday made it the third time the EFCC is amending the charge against the defendants.
Kalu was hitherto answering to a 107-count corruption charge alongside his alleged accomplice, Udeh Jones Udeogu and his firm, Slok Nigeria Limited. The charge against them borders on conspiracy, 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.
The EFCC had at the last adjourned date, April 11, 2016, secured leave of the court to arraign the defendants on the previously amended 112-count charge.
Justice Chikere adjourned to take fresh plea of the defendants after she was furnished with judgment of the Supreme Court, which on March 18, held that the defendants have a criminal case to answer.
A lawyer, Mr. Oluwaleke Atolagbe, who appeared for the lead prosecuting counsel, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), informed the trial Judge, that the charges against the accused had been amended.
The accused allegedly diverted the funds while he was the Governor of Abia State.
The trial judge, Justice Chikere, had fixed Monday for re-arraignment following the judgment of the Supreme Court delivered on March 18, 2016, dismissing Kalu’s and Udeogo’s separate appeals challenging the validity of the charges preferred against them.
The Monday’s proceedings scheduled for the re-arraignment of the accused persons could not proceed after counsel for Udeogo and Slok Nigeria Limited, Mr. Solomon Akuna (SAN), informed the court that there was a pending third appeal with respect to the case which had yet to be heard and determined by the apex court.
Akuna said, “On April 11, 2016, the counsel for the prosecution submitted two judgments of the Supreme Court and gave the impression that all the appeals at the Supreme Court has been determined.
“There is a third pending appeal by the third defendant (Slok Nigeria Limited).
“There were three appeals. The appeal by the first defendant, SC.215/2012, has been determined. The second appeal, SC.264/2012, and the third appeal, SC.264A/2012, by the 3rd defendant is still pending.
“As at today, briefs have been filed and exchanged by the parties to the knowledge of the counsel for the prosecution.
“It is our submission that the commencement of hearing today will prejudice the appeal by the third defendant.”
Akuna said he had applied to the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, and the Director, Legal Litigation of the Supreme Court, to give a hearing date for the appeal.
Counsel for the prosecution, Atolagbe, confirmed that there was a pending appeal, but urged the judge to fix the case for arraignment.
He said the issues in the third appeal had been substantially determined in the two already decided by the Supreme Court.
He also opposed an adjournment till October requested by Akuna, who represented Slok and the second accused, Udeogu.
Kalu’s lawyer, Awa Kalu (SAN), did not oppose the adjournment.
Justice Chikere then adjourned till June 30 for report on the development in the appeal before the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, two counts in the new charge EFCC entered against Kalu and the others read: “That you Orji Uzor Kalu between 13th August, 2003 and 9th October 2003, whilst being the Executive Governor of Abia State within the jurisdiction of this honourable court 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 First Inland Bank Plc Apapa branch, Lagos, the sum of N200, 000, 000.00 (Two Hundred Million Naira) on your behalf which sum formed part of the funds illegally derived from the treasury of Abia State Government through Standard Trust Bank (now United Bank for Africa Plc) and which was converted into four bank drafts before they were subsequently paid into the said company’s account and you thereby committed an offence contrary to section 17(c) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2003 and punishable under section 16 of the same Act.
“That you Orji Uzor Kalu, Udeh Jones Udeogu, Slok Nigeria Limited and Emeka Abone (now at large) between May 2002 and December 2005, within the jurisdiction of this honourable court did conspire among yourselves to commit an offence to wit: laundering of funds illegally derived from the treasury of the Abia State Government and you thereby committed an offence punishable under section 17(a) of the Money laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2004. 38