By Deborah Onyofufeke
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), lost it’s bid to get the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, to agree to the transfer of the money laundering case the anti-graft agency initiated against the former Governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu
The EFCC lawyer, Mr Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, had requested that trial Justice Inyang Ekwo, approve for the case to be transferred back to Lagos for retrial
Justice Ekwo on the other hand, turned down the prosecution counsel’s request on the ground that it lacked merit.
The judge maintained that EFCC’s application was an abuse of the judicial process as the Abuja Division of the court has the jurisdiction to handle the case.
He further added that the casefile was moved from Lagos to Abuja, based on a valid and subsisting directive of the Chief Judge.
While the court rebuked the EFCC counsel for insisting on the transfer of the trial to Lagos, he was ordered to within seven days, show cause why he should not be disqualified from the matter.
The court subsequently adjourned the matter till October 21.
While it maintained that it was bound to abide by the judgment of the Supreme Court, which had only ordered the retrial of Kalu’s co-defendant, Mr. Jones Udeogu.
It held that the anti-graft agency was at liberty to re-approach the apex court for a review of the order that remitted the casefile back for retrial.
It would be recalled that Kalu, who was the former governor of Abia State from 1999 to 2007, was earlier found guilty and slammed with a 12-year jail term by the Lagos Division of the court.
The trial court convicted him alongside his firm, Slok Nigeria Limited and a former Director of Finance in Abia State, Udeogu, for allegedly stealing about N7.1billion from the state treasury.
However, the Supreme Court, in its judgement on May 8, 2020, quashed the conviction and ordered retrial of the defendants by the EFCC.
A seven-man panel of Justices of the apex court, in a unanimous decision, nullified the entire proceedings that led to conviction of the Defendants, stressing that the then trial judge, Justice Mohammed Idris, was already elevated to the Court of Appeal, as at the time he sat and delivered judgement against the Defendants.
It noted that Justice Idris was no longer a judge of the Federal High Court as of December 5, 2019, the day the former governor and his co-defendants were found guilty of the money laundering charge against them.
According to the Supreme Court, Justice Idris, having been elevated to the Court of Appeal before then, lacked the powers to return to sit as a High Court judge.
It, therefore, ordered that the charge in suit No. FHC/ABJ/CR/26/2017, which EFCC entered against Kalu and his co-defendants, should be remitted back to Chief Judge of the Federal High Court for re-assignment to any other judge for the trial to commence de-novo (afresh).
Though the initial trial took place in Lagos, the CJ of the High Court, however, transferred the casefile to Abuja for retrial.
Dissatisfied with the action, the EFCC, in two separate letters it wrote to the CJ of the court, demanded that the case be transferred back to Lagos.
Meanwhile, the new trial judge in the matter, Justice Ekwo, had in a judgement he delivered on September 29, 2021, barred the Federal Government from further prosecuting Kalu and his firm, based on the money laundering charge EFCC preferred against them.
He held that the Supreme Court had in its judgement, only ordered the retrial of Kalu’s Co-Defendant, Udeogu.
Justice Ekwo held that the Supreme Court could not have ordered Kalu’s retrial, since it was Udeogu that lodged an appeal before it.
He maintained that allowing the EFCC to retry Kalu, who is currently the Chief Whip of the Senate, and his firm, would amount to violation of Section 36(9) and (10) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, as well as Section 283 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), 2015.