By Sandra Umeh
Lagos – A Federal High Court in Lagos on Monday fixed March, 7, to rule on the provision of a witness statement, in the trial of a former governor of Abia, Orji Uzor kalu, charged with money laundering.
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, Jones Udogu.
Also charged is a company, Slok Nig. Ltd.
The accused had pleaded not guilty to the charges.
When the case was mentioned on Monday, counsel for the prosecution, called it’s first witness, Mr Onovah Ovenevoh, into the witness box.
Ovenevoh was about to begin his testimony when an objection was raised by Udoogu’s counsel, Chief Solo Akuma (SAN).
Akuma drew the court’s attention to the fact that the Ovenevoh’s statement was not part of the proof of evidence given to him by the prosecution.
According to him, service of witness statement on the defence is a constitutional right and a facility that should be provided for an accused person as enshrined in Section 36(6)(b) of the Constitution.
Kalu’s Counsel, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), also noted that it was important for the prosecution to make the statement of the witness available not only to the defence but also to the court.
“We ought to know what the witness is going to tell the court and not to be caught by surprise.
“Section 36(1)of the Constitution emphasised the need for an accused person to be given fair hearing and for us to have fair hearing, there must be fair trial,” he said
In his objection, the Prosecutor, Mr Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), urged the court to discountenance the submissions of the two defence lawyers.
He maintained that the witness was in court by virtue of a court’s order summoning him to appear and so, the commission should not be concerned about providing his statement again.
He said: “It is in compliance with the order of the court that the witness is here. He is a court’s witness and not a prosecution witness.
“The role played by the witness was displayed on page 19 of the proof of evidence.
This should qualify as his statement,” he said
Justice Mohammed Idris has fixed March 7 for ruling on the issue.
In the charge, the accused persons 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 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).
In 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 government’s treasury during Kalu’s tenure as governor.
The offence contravened sections 15(6), 16, and 21 of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2005.
It also contravened 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.