Alleged N3.2 billion Fraud: Why judge rejected Orji Kalu’s objection to EFCC witness
Justice Mohammed Idris of the Lagos Division of the Federal High Court on Tuesday turned down the objection raised by the lawyers to Orji Kalu, a former governor of Abia State, and two others, to the witness summoned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), to give evidence in their trial.
Mr. Kalu, his company Slok Nigeria Limited, and his former aide, Udeh Udeogu, are facing a 34-count amended charge bordering on money laundering and fraud amounting to N3.2 billion.
The accused persons were alleged to have diverted the money from Abia State government’s treasury between 2001 and 2005.
At the resumed hearing on Tuesday, Mr. Mohammed ruled that a witness, Onovah Ovenevoh, is competent to give evidence in the proceedings.
“There is no dispute that this witness is listed as number twelve in the proof of evidence, the witness is competent to give evidence in this proceedings,” the judge said.
“I hold that this witness being a witness under subpoena shall be allowed to give evidence in this matter.”
After being cleared to give evidence, Mr. Onovah, a staff of Fidelity Bank PLC, narrated to the court how the EFCC in Lagos had on September 29, 2006, ordered the bank, for customers’ information in respect of 27 bank drafts issued by the then Manny bank branch in Umuahia, Abia State.
“They requested for the customers’ names and account numbers, copies of customers’ instructions, the drafts issued and the beneficiaries. So upon receipt of the letter we reviewed our records and responded to EFCC via our letter dated October 13, 2006, forwarding copies of the instructions as well as the manager’s draft.”
When prosecution counsel, Rotimi Jacobs, sought to tender the document as exhibit before the court, Mike Ozekhome objected to the admissibility of the document.
“I am objecting to the admissibility of this document on the grounds that the names on the document are in M.A Udeh and not the witness and that the document was also stamped and certified by the EFCC and not any of Manny or Fidelity banks,” Mr. Ozekhome said.
“How did the EFCC become a certifier of bank documents and not engaged in their investigative duties. My lord should reject this document in its totality.”
The other defence counsels aligned with Mr. Ozekhome’s submission.
According to Mr. Nwofor, “It’s not just sufficient to endorse an amount on the face of a document sought to be certified. There should be evidence of payment. My lord will notice that there is no receipt number and there is also no evidence of endorsement of a revenue receipt and no attachment of revenue receipt. The issue of payment is compulsory and theirs is no exception.”
Justice Idris adjourned till March 8 to rule on the admissibility of the letter and attached documents, as well as continuation of trial of the defendants.
In the charge, Mr. Kalu and other accused persons were alleged to have diverted about N3.2 billion from Abia State government treasury between 2001 and 2005.
They were also alleged to have used the following banks to perpetrate the alleged fraud, Manny Bank, Spring Bank Plc, the defunct Standard Trust Bank and Fin Land Bank, now First City Monument Bank (FCMB).
In counts one to 10, Mr. Kalu was alleged to have between August 13, 2003 and August 10, 2005, while he was the Abia State Governor, procured Slok Nigeria Limited. The company solely belonged to him and his family members, the EFCC said; and the company retained N2.5 billion in its accounts, money allegedly belonging to the state government.
In counts 11 to 20, Slok Nigeria Limited and one Emeka Abone, said to be at large, were also alleged to have between April 29, 2003 and August 10, 2005, retained in their various accounts domiciled with the Apapa branch of First Inland Bank, now FCMB, the total sum of N2.493 billion, on behalf of Mr. Kalu; and that the money formed parts of funds illegally derived from the treasury of the state government.
In count 22 to 33 of the charge, Mr. Kalu and others were alleged to have between August 13, 2003 and August 10, 2005, collaborated and concealed the genuine origin of the total sum of N2.2 billion, which formed parts of funds illegally derived from the treasury of Abia State government and converted and paid the said sum into the account of Slok Nigeria Limited.
The alleged offences according to the prosecutor, Adeniyi Adebisi, are contrary to sections 17(c) 16, 14(1)(b)17(a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2003, and section 427 of the same law.