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Orji Kalu re-arraigned over alleged N2.7billion fraud

A former governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu, was on Monday re-arraigned before a Federal High Court by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over an alleged fraud of N2.7billion.

Kalu was re-arraigned along with two others on 34 counts of money laundering before Justice Mohammed Idris.

His co-defendants were Udeh Udeogu and Slok Nigeria Limited.

The re-arraignment of the accused on Monday followed the transfer of their case from the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court to the Lagos division.

The accused had earlier been arraigned on September 27, 2016 before Justice Anwuri Chikere of the Abuja division of the court.

The 34 counts pressed against Kalu and others border on money laundering.

The EFCC, in the charges, alleged that while he was governor of Abia State, Kalu siphoned funds   running into over N2.7billion from the state’s treasury.

Kalu was accused of diverting state funds into the account of Slok Nigeria Limited, a company, the EFCC claimed was owned by Kalu and his family members.

Kalu was said to have allegedly diverted the funds in tranches of N200m, N50m, N200m, N300.8m, N545m, N429m, N288.4m, N190m, N157m, N152.8m, N100m, N84m and N50m between August 13, 2003 and January 12, 2005.

They were alleged to have utilised Manny Bank (now Fidelity Bank Plc), Spring Bank Plc, the defunct Standard Trust Bank and Finland Bank, now First City Monument Bank (FCMB).

The offence is said to be contrary to Section 17 (c) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2003 and punishable under Section 16 of the same Act.

The EFCC accused Slok Nigeria Limited of conniving with one Emeka Abone, said to be at large, to help Kalu retain the allegedly stolen funds in its accounts, when Slok Nigeria Limited knew or at least suspected the said Orji Uzor Kalu to have engaged in a criminal conduct.

The EFCC said the company is liable to punishment under Section 16 of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2004.

The second defendant, Udeogu, was accused of helping Kalu to pay part of the allegedly stolen funds into the account of Slok Nigeria Limited with the defunct FinBank Plc.

The offence is said to be contrary to Section 427 of the Criminal Code Cap 77, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990.

The accused, however, pleaded not guilty when the charges were read to them.

Consequently, the prosecuting counsel for the EFCC, Mr. Adebisi Adeniyi, asked the court for a trial date.

However, Kalu’s lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), informed the court that his client had earlier been arraigned and granted bail and urged Justice Idris to allow him continue on the existing bail.

“We are seeking the court’s discretion for the first defendant to continue on the existing bail granted to him on April 20, 2008 by Justice Adamu Bello.

“Since this matter has started, he has not jumped bail. He is an employer of labour; therefore, he will not undermine this court,” Ozekhome said.

Counsel for the second defendant, Mr. Solo Akuma (SAN), also urged Justice Idris to allow his client to continue on the existing bail granted to him, assuring the court that his client would make himself available for his trial.

“The second accused person is a retired permanent secretary and his wife is a judge of the Federal High Court,” Akuma added.

In response, the prosecutor said he was not opposed to the application to allow the defendants to continue on their existing bail.

Justice Idris ordered the defendants to continue on their existing bail conditions.