A Federal High Court in Abuja on Thursday ordered that a former Governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu, and his co-accused would on September 27, be arraigned on the charges of money laundering involving alleged diversion of about N3.2bn belonging to the state preferred against them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
Justice Anwuri Chikere fixed the date for arraignment after rejecting a defence counsel’s application to defer it till when the Supreme Court would deliver its judgment on a pending appeal challenging the validity of the charges.
The EFCC had, in 2007, preferred the charges against Kalu alongside Jones Udeogo, and the former governor’s company, Slok Nigeria Limited.
In the amended charges of 34 counts, the accused were said to have diverted a cumulative sum of N3.2bn from the Abia State Government’s treasury while Kalu was the governor of the state.
The case had however failed to make progress as all the three defendants had separately challenged the court’s decision dismissing their notices of preliminary objection to the charges, at the Court of Appeal and later at the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court had on March 18, 2016, dismissed Kalu’s and Udeogo’s separate appeals and ordered them to face their trial.
But Slok Nigeria Limited’s lawyer, Mr. Solomon Akuna (SAN), had on May 16 drawn the attention of Justice Chikere to the pending appeal by his client in the case and urged the court to adjourn the case indefinitely till when the Supreme Court would rule on it.
He had said two appeals numbered; SC.215/2012 and SC.264/2012 had been heard and determined but the third appeal, SC.264A/2012, filed by Slok yet to be heard by the apex court.
Justice Chikere had then further adjourned the case till Thursday.
Akuna again on Thursday insisted that the arraignment could not take place until the apex court’s judgment was delivered.
He asked the court to further adjourn for mention of the case, but the prosecuting counsel, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), disagreed with the defence lawyer and urged the court not to adjourn for definite arraignment of the accused.
Jacobs cited provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act which he said prohibited stay of proceedings in a criminal trial.
The prosecutor asked the defence lawyer to go to the Supreme Court to obtain an order for stay of proceedings if he was interested in halting the trial.
The judge agreed with the prosecuting counsel and fixed September 27 for the arraignment of the accused.