The Federal High Court in Abuja Wednesday slated July 2 for hearing of an application filed by former Abia State governor, Orji Kalu, challenging his retrial by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for money laundering.
The Lagos Division of the court had on December 5, 2019, convicted and sentenced Mr Kalu to 12 years imprisonment, and his co-defendant, Udeh Udeogu, to 10 years jail term for diverting Abia State’s funds to the tune of N7.1 billion.
However, citing technical grounds, the Supreme Court on May 8, 2020, set side the conviction and sentence, and ordered that the defendants be tried afresh.
Before they could be re-arraigned, however, Mr Kalu, the incumbent Chief Whip of the Nigerian Senate, filed an application to stop his retrial.
When the matter came up before Inyang Ekwo, the judge handling the case, on Wednesday, lawyers representing the different parties respectively informed the court that they had all filed and exchanged their processes.
Mr Kalu was represented by Awa Kalu, EFCC by Oluwaleke Atolagbe, Mr Udeogu by George Ukaegbu, and the senator’s firm, Slok Nigeria Ltd (3rd respondent) by K. C Nwafor.
The lawyers are to return to court on July 2 to adopt the processes they have filed.
In his application, Mr Kalu asked the court for an order prohibiting the EFCC from retrying him on same alleged N7.1 billion money laundering charges.
He contented that it would amount to double jeopardy to be subjected to a fresh trial on same charge, having been tried, convicted and sentenced on the same charges in the suit marked, FHC/ABJ/CR/56/ 2007.
In his supporting affidavit filed in support of his motion, Mr Kalu chronicled the historical background of the trial from his first arraignment and re-arraignment in 2016 and 2017, before the Abuja division of the Federal High Court after the initial charges were amended by the EFCC.
He recalled that how on December 5, 2019, Mohammed Idris, the then trial judge at the Federal High Court in Lagos, who is now a judge of the Court of Appeal, convicted and sentenced him with respect to the charges.
He said he was taken to Ikoyi Correctional Centre where he served a few days of his jail term before he was later moved to Kuje Correctional Centre in Abuja.
He added that on May 8, 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that trial by Mr Mohammed was conducted without jurisdiction and ordered the retrial of the appellant, Mr Udeogu, without reference to him.
He argued that “there is no extant ruling or judgment of a competent court in Nigeria ordering his trial having regard to the fact that the Supreme Court excluded him from the explicit order for retrial arising from charge No: FHC/ABJ/56/2007.”
According to him, his trial having been pronounced a nullity by the Supreme Court in its judgment of May 8, 2020, EFCC can no longer institute the same charge against him.
Meanwhile, the court had earlier issued an interim order suspending Mr Kalu’s retrial pending the determination of his application.
In his reply to the application, however, EFCC asked the court to dismiss it on the grounds that the planned re-trial would not amount to a case of double jeopardy.
The anti-corruption agency argued in the reply filed on Wednesday, that the re-trial is in compliance with the order of the Supreme Court.
Road to retrial
PREMIUM TIMES had reported that the EFCC had prosecuted Mr Kalu alongside Ude Udeogu, a former director of finance and accounts with the Abia State Government, and Mr Kalu’s company, Slok Nigeria Limited, on 39 counts of fraud involving about N7.1billion at the Federal High Court in Lagos.
The trial judge, Mohammed Idris, who is now a Justice of the Court of Appeal, had at the end of the trial, sentenced Mr Kalu to 12 years imprisonment and Mr Udeogu was sentenced to 10 years jail term.
The third defendant, Mr Kalu’s company, Slok Nigeria Limited, was ordered to be wound up and its assets forfeited to the Nigerian government.
But on May 8, 2020, the Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision of its seven-member panel, nullified Mr Kalu’s conviction and ordered a retrial.
The apex court ruled and held that the trial was a nullity on the grounds that Mr Idris, the trial judge, had been elevated to the Court of Appeal and no longer a judge of the Federal High Court as of the time he concluded the trial and handed down his verdict.