Justice Mohammed Idris on Wednesday said he cannot continue adjudicating on the trial of former Abia State Governor, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, because the Court of Appeal President, Zainab Bulkachuwa did not give him a fiat to do so.
The judge was handling the 12-year-old alleged corruption case at the Federal High Court in Lagos before he was elevated to appellate court last June.
While he was given a fiat to conclude the cases of former Oyo State Governor Rashidi Ladoja and former President Goodluck Jonathan’s ex-aide Dr Waripamo-Owei Dudafa, he said he got no such authorisation for Kalu’s.
Justice Idris, therefore, adjourned Kalu’s trial indefinitely.
Recall that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) re-arraigned Kalu for allegedly laundering N7.65billion state funds.
Addressing parties, Justice Idris said: “This matter was listed on Wednesday because it was adjourned till today for defence. What has happened is that the last fiat that was issued by the President of the Court of Appeal expired at the end of November 2018.
“On the 10th of January, 2019, I received fresh fiat in respect of some matters that I have started and some new matters but this particular case was not mentioned.
“For this reason, I have a strong feeling that I shouldn’t continue with proceedings in this case unless there is a further directive from the President of the Court of Appeal. I should not proceed further; otherwise I might be acting without authority.
“In the circumstance, I am of the view that further proceedings shouldn’t go on until I receive further information by way of fresh fiat from the Court of Appeal President. As soon as I receive further instruction, hearing notice will be sent to counsel.”
EFCC said Kalu, while being governor between 2001 and September 2006, procured Slok Nigeria Ltd, a company owned by him and members of his family, to retain N7.2billion in its Inland Bank Plc account, on his behalf.
The commission said the money “formed part of the funds illegally derived from the treasury of Abia State government and which was converted into several bank drafts before they were paid into the said company’s account”.
Kalu was accused of collaborating with Udeh Jones Udeogu Slok Nigeria and Emeka Abone (at large) “in concealing the genuine origin of an aggregate sum of N7, 197,871,208.70…”
The alleged offence violates Section 17(c) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2004, and was liable to be punished under Section 16.
Kalu and Udeogu, a former Director of Finance in Abia State Government House, pleaded not guilty to the charge.
They were initially arraigned on a 34-count charge to which five fresh counts were added.
Prosecuting counsel Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) said the amendment was needed because of new evidence provided by the 19 witnesses who testified in the trial. He said he would not call additional witnesses despite the amendment having closed the prosecution’s case on May 11.
Beside the N7.2billion, the defendants were also accused of receiving N460million allegedly stolen from the Abia State Government treasury between July and December 2002.
EFCC said they breached Section 427 of the Criminal Code Act, Cap 77, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990.
Udeogu, Slok Nigeria, Abone and Michael Udo, also at large, were accused of collaborating with Kalu to conceal the “genuine origin” of allegedly stolen funds.