Federal Government has again amended the charge brought against former Governor of Abia State, Orji Kalu, the state’s ex-Director of Finance in the State House, Udeh Jones Udeogu and Kalu’s company, Slok Nigeria Limited, at the Federal High Court, Abuja today.
Kalu and others are being accused of the charge filed before the court of diverting the state’s funds estimated at N5.6 billion while he and Udeogu were in office between 1999 and 2007.
Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), which is prosecuting Kalu served a copy of the amended charge on Kalu and Udeogu, who were in court.
The current amendment is the third being made by the prosecution since the suit was filed.
Kalu, Slok and Udeogu were first arraigned on July 27, 2007, on a 96-count charge.
It would be recalled that EFCC, on February 11, 2008, amended it, raising the counts to 112, which has now been reduced to 34.
About N3.2 billion is now involved in the new charge.
Following their arraignment in 2007, the defendants challenged the competence of the charge up to the Supreme Court but lost throughout the appeal process.
Kalu and Udeogu also lost at the Supreme Court, which in a judgment on March 18, 2016, dismissed their appeal and ordered them to submit themselves for trial.
When the case was mentioned last on April 11, Justice Anwuri Chikere adjourned it till today for the defendants’ re-arraignment.
However, counsel to Udeogo and Slok, Solomon Akuma (SAN), told the court that the appealed filed in the name of Slok was yet to be determined by the Supreme Court.
"On April 11, 2016, the counsel for the prosecution submitted two judgements of the Supreme Court and gave the impression that all the appeals at the Court (Supreme) have 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 third defendant are 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."
Akuma said that he had applied to the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed and the Director, Legal Litigation of the Supreme Court for a date for the hearing of the appeal.
Meanwhile, prosecution counsel, Oluwaleke Atolagbe, confirmed the existence of a third appeal yet to be decided but urged the judge to fix the case for arraignment on the ground that the issues had been substantially determined in the two earlier suits decided by the Supreme Court.
Atolagbe objected to Akuma’s suggestion that the case should be adjourned until October.
However, Kalu's counsel, Awa Kalu (SAN), did not object to Akuma’s request for adjournment and the judge adjourned the matter till June 30 for parties to inform the court about development in the appeal before the Supreme Court.
Kalu, Slok and Udeogu are, in the amended charge, accused of diverting about N3.2 billion belonging to Abia State between February 3, 2003, and September 2, 2005.
In counts 1 to 20, Kalu and his company, Slok Nigeria Limited, were accused of diverting part of the funds from Abia State's accounts with Standard Trust Bank (now United Bank for Africa), Citizens Bank (later Spring Bank), Manny Bank (now Fidelity Bank), using Slok's account with First Inland Bank Plc.
Parts of the funds were said to have been 'converted' into various bank drafts "before they were subsequently paid into the said company's account."
EFCC alleged that the offences in counts 1 to 10 were said to have engaged in criminal conduct contrary to Section 17(c) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2003 and punishable under section 16 of the same act.
In counts 11 to 21 in which Slok and Udeogu alleged diverted the funds from Abia State's treasury on Kalu's behalf, the accused were said to have engaged in criminal conduct punishable under Section 16 of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2003.
The second defendant, Udeogu, is involved in counts 21 to 34.
In counts 21 to 29, Kalu, Udeogu and Slok, were said to have collaborated in concealing the genuine origin of the diverted funds, an offence said to be punishable under section 14(1)(b) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition), Act, 2003.
In counts 30 to 33, the three of them were accused of receiving funds stolen from the treasury of Abia State Government; an offence said to be contrary to Section 427 of the Criminal Code Act, Cap 77, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990.
In Count 34, they were accused of conspiring among themselves "to commit an offence to wit: laundering of funds illegally derived from the treasury of Abia State Government."