A Federal High Court in Lagos, Thursday, ordered former Abia Orji Kalu to open his defence today (Friday), in the case of N3. 2bn fraud preferred against him.
This is as the court refused any further delay in the trial that started more 10 years ago.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is prosecuting Kalu together with his former finance commissioner, Ude Udeogo, and a company, Slok Nigeria Ltd in a 34-count charge, bordering on N3.2bn fraud.
They had each pleaded not guilty to the charge, and were granted bail.
At Thursday’s proceedings, the defence counsel had urged the court for a stay of proceedings, pending the determination of appeals filed at the court of appeal, on jurisdictional issues.
The defence argued that the grounds of appeal question the jurisdiction of the trial court, to continue with the hearing of the case, following the elevation of the trial Judge, Mohammed Idris, to the court of appeal.
The defence argued that Order 4 Rules 10 and 11 of the Court of Appeal Rules is superior to the provisions of Section 396 (7) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015, which permits the judge to still sit as a High Court judge.
The defence, therefore, urged the court to stay proceedings.
Responding, EFCC’s lawyer, Rotimi Jacobs, expressed opposition to defence’s request for a stay of proceedings in the matter.
Jacobs argued that the points raised by defence lawyers were no longer ‘live issues’, as they had been overtaken by the advent of ACJA.
He said that Section 306 of the ACJA frowns at any application for stay of proceedings in criminal matters and urged the court to refuse the application as it is no longer permissible under the law.
In a bench ruling, Idris declined the request to stay further proceedings in the case, on the grounds that it is in conflict with the provisions of the law.
“The application is in conflict with the law; trial is being conducted under the ACJA, which requires day-to-day proceedings.
He said that learned counsel could proceed to the appellate court for hearing of their application for stay, but ordered the accused to begin their defence.
Idris, thus adjourned the case until Friday for continuation of trial.
In the charge, the accused were alleged to have committed the offence between August 2001 and October 2005.
Kalu was alleged to have utilised his company to retain in the account of a First Inland Bank, now FCMB, the sum of N200 million.
The sum is alleged to have formed part of funds illegally derived from the coffers of the Abia Government.
The offence is said to have contravened the provisions of Sections 15(6), 16, and 21 of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2005.
It also contravenes the provisions of the Money Laundering Act of 1995, as amended by the amendment Act No.9 of 2002, and Section 477 of the Criminal Code Act, Laws of the Federation, 1990.