The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, yesterday, filed an amended 34-count criminal charge against the former governor of Abia State, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu.
The charge, marked FHC/ABJ/CR/56/07, was entered before the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja on a day trial Justice Anwuli Chikere was to commence hearing on an initially amended 112-count charge the anti-graft agency preferred against Kalu and two others on February 11, 2008.
The development, yesterday, made it the third time EFCC is amending the charge against the defendants. Kalu was hitherto answering to a 107-count corruption charge alongside his alleged accomplice, Udeh Jones Udeogu and his firm, Slok Nigeria Limited.
The charge against them borders on conspiracy, money laundering and illegal diversion of public funds to the tune of N5.6 billion.
The fraud was allegedly perpetuated while Kalu was governor of Abia State between 1999 and 2007. EFCC had, at the last adjourned date, April 11, secured leave of the court to arraign the defendants on the previously amended 112-count charge.
Justice Chikere adjourned to take fresh plea of the defendants after she was furnished with judgment of the Supreme Court, which on March 18, held that the defendants have a criminal case to answer. Pending appeal
Meanwhile, at the resumed sitting yesterday, EFCC’s lawyer, Mr. Oluwaleke Atolagbe, told the court that he had just filed “a further amended charge” against the defendants.
However, counsel to the second and third defendants, Chief Solomon Akuma (SAN), notified the court that his client, Slok Nigeria Limited, still has an appeal pending before the Supreme Court.
Akuma explained that what was previously determined by the apex court were two separate appeals marked SC/215/2012 and SC/264/2012, which were lodged by Kalu and Udeogu.
He said: “The third appeal, SC/264a/2012, is still subsisting. As at today briefs have been filed and exchanged by all the parties.
“We have gone further to apply to the Chief Justice of Nigeria and the Director of Litigation at the Supreme Court to give us a date.
“It is our submission that the commencement of hearing on this trial will prejudice the pending appeal. In the circumstance we humbly ask for an adjournment.” His adjournment request was supported by Kalu’s lawyer, Chief Awa Kalu (SAN).
Although EFCC’s lawyer confirmed the pendency of the appeal, he, however, stressed that issues raised by the third defendant were similar to what was earlier determined by the Supreme Court.
Efforts by the prosecution, who placed reliance on Section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, to persuade the court to proceed with the trial, failed as the court subsequently adjourned the matter till June 30 for mention.