By Our Reporter
Former governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu, last Monday, July 22, 2019, opened his defence in an alleged N7.6billion fraud trial involving him and two others before Justice Mohammed Idris of the Federal High Court sitting in Ikoyi, Lagos.
Kalu is standing trial alongside his former Commissioner for Finance, Ude Udeogu, and a company, Slok Nigeria Limited, on an amended 39-count charge bordering on money laundering to the tune of N7.6bn.
Kalu, who is also the Senator representing Abia North Senatorial District, allegedly committed the offence between August 2001 and October 2005.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, had on May 11, 2018 through its counsel, Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, closed its cases after calling 19 witnesses.
Rather than open his defence, Kalu filed a no-case submission, which was afterwards dismissed by the trial court on July 31, 2018.
Dissatisfied with the decision, Kalu approached the Court of Appeal, to upturn the ruling of Justice Idris.
However, on April 24, 2019 the Appellate Court in a lead judgement by Justice M.L. Garba, upheld the decision of the lower court. The Court of Appeal also dismissed appeals filed by Kalu’s co-defendants challenging the jurisdiction of the court to further hear the case, following the elevation of Justice Idris to the Court of Appeal.
The President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, thereafter, issued a fresh fiat to Justice Idris to conclude the case.
At today’s sitting, Jacobs stated that the day’s proceeding was for the defence to open its case.
Responding, Kalu’s lawyer, Awa Kalu, SAN, informed the court that he received a letter from the prosecution informing him of the resumption of the case.
The defence counsel also added that he had informed the prosecution before the resumed sitting that he would not be available in court due to his involvement in some election petition matters.
He further stated that he had to appear in court out of the respect he had for the court so as to explain his predicament in person.
“The election petition matters are constrained by time as stipulated in the Constitution and the time for concluding election matters cannot be extended by any court,” Awa Kalu said.
He also told the court that the second and third defendants, Udeogo and Slok Nigeria Limited were not represented in court for today’s proceedings.
The defence counsel also told the court that he had to rush down to Lagos from Abuja yesterday without the case file due to the fact that his Secretary, whom he said was bereaved, could not prepare the case file.
Kalu’s lawyer, therefore, asked the court for a short adjournment for the defence to open its case.
While acknowledging the receipt of the letter written by Kalu’s counsel, Jacobs argued that the defence could still open its case.
Justice Idris noted that there had been a prior notice to all the parties in the matter, stating that the hearing of the case should resume.
The Judge also held that the absence of counsels to the second and third defendants could not be justified, and therefore, ordered Kalu to open his defence.
Kalu, thereafter, took to the dock to open his defence.
Led in evidence by his counsel, Kalu told the court his name and stated that he was a manufacturer of home goods until he resigned some weeks ago to become a Senator.
He also told the court that he had pleaded “not guilty” to all the 39-count charges preferred against him by the EFCC and that he was aware that the trial was a joint trial involving Ude Udeogo and Slok Nigeria Limited.
Kalu’s lawyer, at that point, re-applied for an adjournment of the case.
The prosecution did not object to the prayer of the first defendant’s counsel for an adjournment.
Consequently, Justice Idris adjourned the case to August 26, 2019 for “continuation of defence” and further held that “the proceedings will continue on a day-to-day basis till it is concluded.”