JUST IN: Judge Abandons Orji Kalu’s N7.2bn Fraud Trial Till Further Notice

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Justice Mohammed Idris of the Federal High Court in Lagos on Wednesday said the court would await further directives to proceed with the trial of a former Governor of Abia State, Orji Kalu, on charges of N7.2 billion fraud.

Kalu, a chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), was alleged to have committed the offence between August 2001 and October 2005 when he was in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is prosecuting Kalu together with his former Commissioner for Finance, Ude Udeogo, and a company, Slok Nigeria Ltd., for the alleged offences.

On October 31, 2016, the EFCC preferred 34 charges, bordering on N3.2 billion fraud, against the accused. The charges were, however, amended and increased to 39 counts. Kalu and the others had each pleaded not guilty to the charges and were granted bail.

Justice Idris, who had been sitting as a trial judge in the criminal charge against Kalu, was elevated to the Court of Appeal, but he continued with the trial, following a fiat authorising him to continue with the trial.

At the last adjourned date on November 12, 2018, Kalu was absent from trial, after being absent on a previous adjourned date of November 5, 2018. Although the defence counsel had informed the court that he was away for medical treatment in Germany, the court had revoked his bail and ordered that at the point of his entry into the country, he must submit himself and all relevant travelling documents to the EFCC, failing which he would be arrested. The court had then adjourned the case until January 23, for the continuation of trial.

On Wednesday, the prosecutor, Mr Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), appearing for the prosecution, informed the court that in spite of its order, the accused had refused to submit himself or his travelling documents to the EFCC.

He argued that such attitude constituted a clear disregard for the court, adding that in the circumstance, he would urge the court to give effect to the provisions of Section 352(4) of the ACJA and continue with the trial of the accused even in his absence.

Jacobs urged the court to order defence to call in its witnesses, failing which the court is allowed by the provisions of the law, to close their case.

Responding, counsel to the accused, Mr. Awa Kalu (SAN), expressed his displeasure with the submissions of the prosecution, noting that such arguments should be put in an affidavit for the defence to reply.

In its reaction, however, the court informed parties that although the case had been adjourned for the continuation of the trial, the fiat issued by the presiding judge of the appellate court expired at the end of November 2018.

He said that on January 10, he had received fresh fiat in respect of some other matters before him, adding that the case in point was not mentioned. Idris said that for this reason, he had strong doubt if he should continue with proceedings, adding that it was important he acted with abundant caution.

“I should not proceed further, otherwise, I will be acting without authority. So, in the circumstance, I am of the view that further proceedings shouldn’t go on until I receive further instructions,” he said.

The court added that as soon as such notice was received, hearing notices would be served on counsel.