The EFCC on Wednesday, filed an amended 39-count charge before a Federal High Court Lagos, against a former Governor of Abia, Orji Uzor Kalu in an alleged N3.2 billion fraud. The EFCC had on Oct. 31, 2016, preferred a 34-count charge bordering against Kalu and a former Commissioner for Finance in Abia, Ude Udeogo. A Company, Slok Nig. Ltd, said to be owned by Kalu, was also joined in the charge. The accused had pleaded not guilty to the charge, and were granted bails.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that at the last adjourned date on May 11, EFCC had closed its case, but had informed the court that it intended to file an amended charge against the accused, to reflect further evidences. The court had then adjourned the case, for the defence to open it’s defence. On Wednesday, when the case was called, the prosecutor Mr Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), informed the court of an amended charge against the accused which he had filed this morning, adding that the prosecution was also served with a no case submission by each of the accused.
He said that he received the no case submission of first accused on May 28 at 5pm, while he received those of the second and third accused shortly before the court sat this morning. In response, first defence counsel, Mr Awa Kalu (SAN) confirmed to the court that he had filed a no case submission on behalf of first accused but added that the accused had not been served with any amended charge by prosecution. Second and third defence counsel, Messrs Solo Akuma (SAN) and K. C Nwofo (SAN) also informed the court that they had filed no case submissions on behalf of the second and third accused, which were served on the prosecution this morning. They also informed the court that neither the defence nor any of its legal team had seen or received copies of the said amended charge by prosecution. Specifically, Akuma drew the courts attention to the provisions of sections 216 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, which he argued does not allow prosecution to amend a charge without leave of court.
He said that the prosecution ought to have applied by way of motion on notice for amendment, which will afford the defence an opportunity to be heard, before the court exercises it’s discretion for or against the application. When the prosecution opted to serve the charge on defence counsel in court, first defence counsel (Kalu) objected to service, on the grounds that the charge ought to be served personally on the accused and not on his counsel.
In his response, Jacobs reminded the court that at the last adjourned date, before he closed the case for the prosecution, he had informed the court of the amended charge. He said that however, following “gentlemen agreements” between him and the defence, he had decided to close his case before bringing the amended charge. He told the court that the era of technicality was gone, and that by the decision of the Supreme Court, the prosecution was not bound to seek leave of court before amending a criminal charge.
Jacobs then sought for permission of the court, to serve the amended charge on the accused in the presence of the judge in the courtroom, since defence counsel had refused to take service. Justice Idris consequently held that in the light of the foregoing, the learned prosecutor was permitted to serve the accused with the amended charge in court. Kalu and Udeogo were then respectively handed the amended charge. Defence counsel then informed the court that they required ample time to study the amended charge, before taking any steps.
Justice Idris adjourned the case until June 13 at noon, for hearing of both the no case submission and hearing on the amended charge. in the charge, the EFCC alleged that Kalu and the others committed the offences from August 2001 to October 2005. The commission accused Kalu of utilising his company (Slok Nig. Ltd.) to retain in the account of First Inland Bank, now First City Monument Bank, the sum of N200 million.
The commission said that the sum formed part of funds illegally derived from the coffers of the Abia State Government. The commission also said that the accused retained, in different bank accounts, about N2.5 billion belonging to the Abia Government. The EFCC alleged that that the accused diverted about N3.2 billion from the coffers of Abia Government.
The offences contravenes the provisions of sections 15(6), 16, and 21 of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2005. It also contravenes the provisions of the Money Laundering Act of 1995 as amended by the amendment Act No.9 of 2002 and section 477 of the Criminal Code Act, Laws of the Federation, 1990. (NAN)