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Former governor, Orji Kalu opens defense in alleged N7.6 billion fraud trial


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FORMER governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu, on Monday opened his defence in an alleged N7.6 billion fraud trial at the Federal High Court sitting in Ikoyi, Lagos State.

Kalu was arraigned alongside, a former Abia state Commissioner for Finance, Ude Udeogu, and a company, Slok Nigeria Limited, by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on 39 count charges bordering on fraud and money laundering.

Justice Mohammed Idris, the presiding judge at the resumed sitting allowed the former governor to open his defence.

Kalu, a senator representing Abia North Senatorial District, had allegedly committed the offence between August 2001 and October 2005 when he was the governor of Abia State.

The EFCC had on May 2018, through its counsel, Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, closed its cases after calling 19 witnesses against Kalu but he countered the prosecution by filing a no-case submission, which was dismissed by the trial court on July 2018.

Kalu appealed the ruling at the Court of Appeal, as he sought to upturn the judgement of the high court.

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In April 2019, the Appellate Court in a lead judgement by Justice M.L. Garba upheld the decision of the lower court and dismissed the appeals filed by Kalu’s co-defendants challenging the jurisdiction of the court, following the promotion of Justice Idris to the Court of Appeal.

The President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, also, issued a fresh fiat to Justice Idris to conclude the case.

At the resumed hearing, defence counsel, Awa Kalu, SAN, informed the court that he received a letter from the prosecution informing him of the resumption of the case.

Kalu’s lawyer, requested a short adjournment for the defence, to open its case while he announced the absence of the second and third defendants, Udeogo and Slok Nigeria Limited from the proceeding.

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.

Justice Idris 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.

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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 stating 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 as 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 2019, for “continuation of defence” and further held that “the proceedings will continue on a day-to-day basis till it is concluded.”

Amos Abba is a journalist with the International Center for Investigative Reporting, ICIR, who believes that courageous investigative reporting is the key to social justice and accountability in the society.

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