Former governor of Abia State, Dr. Orji Kalu, yesterday, welcomed the verdict of the Supreme Court directing his trial by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for alleged N2.4billion fraud when he ran the affairs of the state between 1999 and 2007.
The apex court had dismissed his appeal for lacking in merit.
Kalu, who in the appeal, had sought to quash the charge of money laundering brought against him by EFCC, said moment after the Supreme Court’s ruling yesterday that “this is another opportunity to prove my innocence.
“I have all the records and facts of the case. I am willing to submit myself for the rule of law to take its course. That has always been my passion advocacy, right from the lower courts where the case enamnated,” he said from London.
He added: “this clarification has become imperative lest oppositional forces mischievously misinterpret the ruling and mislead the public by injecting their jaundiced opinions into the routine directive as had always been with similar cases where the apex court intervened.”
He assured the EFCC of his “continued support and profound cooperation in any further investigation into this allegation,’’ and also claimed it “is part of the price I have to pay for opposing the third-term agenda fiasco of former President Olusegun Obasanjo.”
A similar appeal by Kalu’s associate, Udeh Jones Udehogo, was similarly dismissed yesterday by the Supreme Court for the same reason.
Justice Suleiman Galadima, who wrote the lead judgments in both appeals, upheld the concurrent decisions of the Federal High Court, Abuja and Appeal Court, Abuja, in refusing the appeals.
The five-man panel of the apex court, in its unanimous judgments, directed the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court to assign the cases to new judges for hearing.
On Kalu’s case, Justice Galadima, whose judgment was read by Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, said: “The appellant had approached the Federal High Court, Abuja to quash the charges made against him by the EFCC.
“The Court dismissed the case. He went to the Court of Appeal, Abuja Division. He lost and approached this court.
“Having considered all issues raised and arguments by parties, I come to the conclusion that I cannot, but help in dismissing this appeal for lacking in merit. It is dismissed.
“I affirm the decision of the court bellow, which rightly affirmed the decision of the Federal High Court, that it was not bound by the ex-parte order of the Abia State High Court as to vitiate the charges preferred against the appellant.
“The learned Chief Judge of the Federal High Court should assign the case to another judge for expeditious trial,” Justice Galadima said.
Other members of the panel: Justice Mahmud Mohammed (the Chief Justice of Nigeria), Bode Rhodes-Vivour, sylvester Nwgwuta and Datijo Mohammed agreed with the lead judgments in both appeals.
In its decision on April 27, 2012, the Court of Appeal, Abuja division, dismissed the appeal by Kalu against the ruling of the Federal High Court, Abuja, dismissing his motion seeking to quash the charge against him and his company, Slok Nigeria Limited.
Justice Ejembi Eko, who read the judgment on behalf of Justices Kayode Bada and Regina Nwodo, resolved all issues in the appeal against Kalu and his company and dismissed the appeal for lacking in merit.
Justice Eko noted that the proof of evidence attached to the 97 count charge preferred against the appellants by the EFCC disclosed a prima facie case against the former governor and others.
Justice Eko said the facts raised in the proof of evidence established a prima facie case against the appellants. He further said that as far as there is a link which prima facie is all about, the appellants had an obligation to stand trial to defend themselves.
He further ruled that the ex-parte order of May 31, 2007 by Abia State High Court, asking the Federal High Court to stay all proceedings against Orji was a racquet suit aimed at frustrating his arrest and subsequent prosecution.
“That order was an order at large, personal rather than definite. It was an order made as an ex-parte and not at the course of trial.” He described the ex-parte motion as an abuse of court process.
Justice Eko said the claim of breach of personal freedom raised by Orji was sentimental in nature, adding that the claim bordered on the realm of conspiracy theory and is politically motivated. He said right to personal liberty is not absolute.
On whether EFCC had the competence to charge the appellants, Justice Eko held that both the EFCC Establishment Act and the Money laundering and Prohibition Act, (MPLA, 2003, 2004) had given the commission power to prosecute offenders.
“EFCC derives its competence to prosecute from section 6 and 7 of its Establishing Act. Equally, the definition of economic crime is quite wide,” he said.
The appellate court further held that the proof of evidence attached to the 97-count charge preferred against the appellants by the EFCC disclosed a prima facie case against the former governor and others.
Justice Eko also denounced the ex-parte order of May 31, 2007 by the Abia State High Court.
“That order was an order at large, personal rather than definite. It was an order made as an ex-parte and not at the course of trial.”
The EFCC had on July 27, 2007 arraigned Kalu before the High Court in Abuja on charges of money laundering, official corruption and criminal diversion of public funds totaling over N5 billion.
On September 3, 2007 Kalu filed a motion before the court seeking an order to strike out all EFCC charges against him and to vacate the terms and conditions of the bail earlier granted by the court. The court dismissed the motion, a decision Kalu appealed to the Court of Appeal.