Former Abia governor, Chief Orji Uzor Kalu, has urged a Federal High Court in Lagos to reject a document sought to be tendered in evidence against him in a N3.2 billion fraud charge.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had on Oct. 31, 2016, preferred a 34-count charge bordering on N3.2 billion fraud against Kalu and his former Commissioner for Finance, Ude Udeogo as well as a company — Slok Nigeria Ltd.
The accused had pleaded not guilty to the charges.
On Monday, the Defence had raised an objection to the testimony of a first prosecution witness, Mr. Onovah Ogonevoh, on the grounds that his statement was not attached to the proof of evidence served on it.
In a short ruling on the issue, Justice Mohammed Idris, overruled the objections on the grounds that the prosecution had not yet provided his statement.
Idris held that since the witness was under subpoena, he should be allowed to testify in the matter irrespective of whether his statement was available or not.
The court, however, directed the prosecution to ensure that it provided the defence with the statements of all other witnesses, who are not under subpoena.
When trial resumed on Tuesday, the prosecutor, Mr Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) began examination of the first prosecution witness.
Jacob then sought to tender a document from Manny Bank Plc (now defunct) in response to an enquiry from the commission in respect of 27 bank drafts issued by the Umuahia Branch of the bank.
The bank had in its response dated October 13, 2006 to the EFCC’s request, attached the customer’s name, the account number and copies of the bank drafts with a covering letter.
Again, the defence raised objections to the admissibility of the documents attached to the letter.
In his objection, counsel to the first accused, Chief Mike Ozhekome (SAN) said its certification by the EFCC was erroneous.
“It is legally untenable for the commission to certify a document which originally was in possession of the bank; the bank is in a better position to certify the document.”
Ozekhome also noted that since the witness was not the maker of the documents, it will be difficult for the defence to cross-examine him on it.
He urged the court to reject the documents attached to the letter.
Counsel to the second and third accused, Chief Solo Akuma (SAN) and Mr K.C Nwofo (SAN), also aligned themselves with Ozekhome’s submission, and urged the court to reject the documents as not being duly certified.
In his reply, the prosecutor argued that once there is no objection to the covering letter, the entire document should be taken by the court as admitted.
He argued that the commission had only certified the letter sent to it by the bank which is now in its possession and that the certification is in substantial compliance with Section 104 of the Evidence Act.
Justice Idris has fixed March 8 to deliver his ruling on the issue.
In the charge, the accused were alleged to have committed the offence between August 2001 and October 2005.
Kalu was alleged to have utilised his company to retain in the account of a First Inland bank, now FCMB, the sum of N200 million.
The sum is alleged to have formed part of funds illegally derived from the coffers of the Abia State Government.
In one of the counts, his company (Slok Nig. Ltd) and one Emeka Abone who is said to be at large, were also alleged to have retained in the company’s account the sum of N200 million on behalf of the first accused.
They were alleged to have utilised Manny Bank, (now Fidelity Bank Plc), Spring Bank Plc, the defunct Standard Trust Bank and Fin Land Bank, now First City Monument Bank (FCMB).
On counts one to 10, the accused were alleged to have retained about N2.5 billion in different accounts which funds were said to belong to the Abia government.
Cumulatively, in all the counts, the accused were alleged to have diverted over N3.2 billion from the Abia State Government’s treasury during Kalu’s tenure as governor.
The offences contravened the provisions of Sections 15(6), 16, and 21 of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2005 and 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.