The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC on Friday April 27, 2012 secured a landmark victory in its suit against former governor of Abia state, Orji Uzor Kalu at the Court of Appeal, Abuja Division, when the panel of three justices led by Justice Ejembi Eko, struck out the appeal by the former governor and his company Slok Nigeria.
The appellants had approached the appellate court to set aside the ruling of the Federal High Court that the former governor had a case to answer. Some of issues raised for determination by Kalu’s counsel, Awa Kalu (SAN) included the declaration by the appeal court that the appellants were arraigned on non-existent law and that the proof of evidence did not disclose a prima facie case against the appellants.
Orji further stated that since the Abia State High Court had issued an ex-parte motion on the matter, the Federal High Court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the case.
He also sought the leave of the appellate court to enforce his fundamental human rights by declaring his arrest, detention, and arraignment a nullity.
Orji’s company, Slok Nigeria Ltd sought similar leave. Additionally that the appeal court should determine whether the EFCC and the federal government were competent to prosecute a case involving the revenue of a state.
In a unanimous ruling read by Justice Eko on behalf of Justices Kayode Bada and Regina Nwodo, the appellate court resolved all the grounds of appeal in favour of the respondent and dismissed the appeal for lack of 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.
According to him, 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 affirmed that the claim of breach of personal freedom by Orji was sentimental in nature. ”This claim borders on the realm of conspiracy theory and is politically motivated. Right to personal liberty is not absolute,” the judge stated.
On whether EFCC had the competence to charge the appellants, the court maintained 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,” the judge said.
In his reaction to the ruling, prosecution counsel, Rotimi Jacobs expressed satisfaction with the judgment. He noted that the Appeal Court ruling had vindicated his position that the Abia High Court Order was intended to protect Kalu from prosecution and exposed the hollowness of the position of the former Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Michael Andoakaa that the order must be obeyed.
The EFCC had on July 27, 2007 arraigned former Abia State Governor Orji Uzor Kalu before an Abuja High court on a 107 count charge of money laundering, official corruption and criminal diversion of public funds totaling over five billion.
On August 5,2007 Kalu wrote a letter to then President Umaru Yar’Adua, urging him to order the EFCC to discontinue the trial, complaining that the Commission failed to obey a May 31, 2007 Abia State High Court order for stay of proceedings pending the determination of a motion before it.
President Yar’Adua, replying through Aondoaaka, promised Kalu that the Abia High Court ruling would be respected. On September 3, 2007 Kalu filed a motion at the Abuja High Court asking for 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.
During the September 5, 2007 hearing of Kalu’s motion, an attorney from the AGF’s office appearing for Aondoakaa, urged the court to comply with the Abia High Court ruling. Earlier, both the EFCC lawyer and the Justice Minister’s representative clashed over which of them had the power to prosecute Kalu’s case. The matter was resolved in favour of the Attorney General.
During the course of the trial, one chief Eze Gaius Ihejiamaizu, who was then the chairman of Abia council of Ezes stood as one of Kalu’s sureties but eventually withdrew his surety. He said in his application to be discharged from the obligation that he no longer has confidence in the 1st accused person and will not stand as surety for him anymore.
“That for now, the 1st accused and myself have not been associating with each other and I can no longer vouch for him being unaware of his movements and action.
“That it would be in the interest of justice to discharge me as a surety to the 1st accused person and return my said certificate of recognition to me,” he declared.