The trial of a former Governor of Abia State, Orji Uzo Kalu, over an alleged N3.2 billion fraud was stalled again at a Federal High Court in Lagos on Monday, due to his absence in court because of medical tourism.
Kalu and a former Abia Commissioner for Finance, Ude Udeogo, as well as Kalu’s company, Slok Nig. Ltd. were charged by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission for allegedly stealing the sum, belonging to the Abia Government.
The EFCC had on October 31, 2016, preferred 34 counts bordering on fraud against Kalu and the others.
Kalu, who is now a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress, had, however, pleaded not guilty to the charges and was subsequently, granted bail.
At the resumed trial on Monday, Kalu’s Counsel, Mr Gordy Uche, apologised to the court for the absence of the first accused, saying that Kalu was currently in Germany for surgery.
Uche told the court that Kalu’s medical appointment, slated earlier for August 2, for which the court had granted permission, was unable to proceed as the accused could not get a flight to Germany on time.
He explained that Kalu’s surgery was rescheduled for to September 10.
“My lord, attached to our letter for an adjournment are the correspondences between the operating surgeon and the first accused, his phone number and his name.
“The circumstance is a very unfortunate one as it was the defence that applied to the Court of Appeal for a special fiat to enable my lord to conclude this case.
“In the 11 years of trial, the first accused has always been present and punctual. We compassionately plead for this short adjournment to enable him do the surgery and recover,” Uche said.
But the EFCC Prosecutor, Mr Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, objected to the application for an adjournment, arguing that the time the court granted the first accused to travel for his operation had elapsed.
“My lord, this is a mockery of the entire proceeding and it is deliberate. The first accused has jumped his bail and I urge my lord to revoke his bail,” Jacobs said.
However, Justice Mohammed Idris in his ruling held that the six-week adjournment granted on July 31 to the first accused was granted as a result of his continuous presence in the trial.
He, however, noted that the e-mail addresses of the correspondences were blanked out, showing that the appointment with the operating surgeon had not been fixed as at the time of the adjournment.
“The entire scenario appears ridiculous. The conduct of Orji since the dismissal of the No-case submission on July 31 is very irresponsible. Justice said and done is for all parties.
“No one, no matter how highly placed, is above the law. This court will apply the rule of law in full force. He who comes to equity must come with clean hands.
“His absence cannot be explained, hence, this application has failed,” Idris held.
He, however, adjourned the case until September 20 and September 21 for definite trial.
The EFCC had said in its charge that Kalu and the others had committed the offences from August 2001 to October 2005.
The commission accused Kalu of using his company, Slok Nig. Ltd., to retain in the account of First Inland Bank, now First City Monument Bank, the sum of N200 million.
It 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 State Government.
It said that the accused diverted about N3.2 billion from the coffers of the Abia Government.
The offence is said to have contravened 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.