Justice Mohammed Idris of a Federal High Court, Lagos, on Wednesday, rejected an objection raised by the former governor of Abia State, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, and two others, to the competence of a witness of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Mr. Onovie Oghenevo, to tender some documents in their trial of alleged N3.2 billion fraud.
Kalu alongside his former aide, Udeh Udeogu, and his company, Slok Nigeria Limited, are facing trial before the court on an amended 34 count-charge of alleged N3.2 billion fraud.
It will be recalled the Justice Idris had on Tuesday, rejected objections raised by Kalu and other Defendants to the witness, Mr. Oghenevo, giving evidence in their trial, on the ground that the witness was subpoenaed by the court.
Justice Idris dismissed the defendants’ objection while delivering ruling on the objection raised by their lawyers that include: Mike Ozekhome, Goody Kalu, Solo Akuma, and K. C. Nwojo, all Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs).
The Defendants had urged the court not to admit the documents on the ground the documents were not certified, and the one that were certified were done by the
EFCC, which ought to have been done by the bank which Oghenevo represented.
But the EFCC through its prosecutor, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs, had urged discountenance the objection raised by the defendants, on the ground that the certification of the bank’s letter equally covered the attachments.
He, therefore, urged the court to admit the letter and the attachment.
Justice Idris in his ruling said: “the letter is original and need no certification. So the letter dated October 17, 2006, is admissible.”
The judge while citing Appeal Court decision on Orizu Vs Onyegbuna, also said: “it’s a settled law that a document with attachment has to be admitted with the attachment. The letter and it’s attachments has the same weight, in the circumstances, the letter and it’s attachments is admissible in evidence”.
Consequently, the letter and the documents were admitted as exhibit A and A1-38.
Today, the first prosecution witness, Mr. Oghenevo, while being led-in-evidence by the prosecutor, informed the court that all the instruments, which includes manager’s cheques and bank drafts used by the defendants were issued in Umuahia branch of the defunct Mammy Bank, Abia State, but presented at Apapa, Lagos branch.
He also stated that 23 drafts paid to different people were drawn at Government House, Umuahia, Abia State.
He also informed the court that the cheques were issued on April 7, 2005, by Imaga Okoro, M. A. Udoh, Romanus Madu, and one James, at Government House, Umuahia, Abia State.
However, the witness while being cross-examine by Mike Ozekhome (SAN), informed the court that none of defendants’ names were in the drafts or the cheques. He also told the court that they were not the persons that issued instructions to the issuance of the drafts.
He also argued that the draft of N2.5 million paid in favour of Slok was issued for Orji Uzor Kalu Campaign Fund, and that the draft was not issued from the Government House, in Umuahia.
He also told the court that he was not the one that approved the payment, neither did he supervise the approval.
Also, the second witness called by the prosecution, Christiana Ohiri, a manager with United Bank for Africa (UBA) Plc, Umuahia branch, Abia State, told the court that her bank was contacted by the EFCC in between September and October 2006, requested for some documents relating to some transaction that were done early in 2006.
She also told the court, who she was invited by the EFCC in 2007, and asked of some questions relating to the documents sent by her bank to the agency.
She also informed the court that the Abia State government House, Judiciary and Board of Internal Revenue, have accounts with her bank during the period.
However, the witness was stopped from continue to give evidence in the matter, following objection raised by Mike Ozekhome (SAN), on the admissibility of the documents, which includes account statement, being tendered by the witness on the ground that they were not certified.
Ozekhome (SAN) in opposing the admissibility of the documents, said: “certification is a legal requirement under the Evidence Act. Account number 05335455001105, is an account that didn’t have UBA logo, this is just a piece of paper bearing some amount.
“The other two pages that have the bank’s logo, do not have any certification. The one that has logo was not certified, and the ones that were certified doesn’t have logo. This is contrary to Section 84(1) of Evidence Act.
“We therefore objected to their admissibility”.
He also informed the court not to listen to the second prosecution witness, and to esponge all the evidence she had given in the case, on the ground that her name was listed in the Proof-of-Evidence.
In response, the prosecutor, Mr. Jacobs (SAN), urged the court admit the documents as well as allow the witness to give evidence in the matter, saying that objection raised by the defendants was unfounded, and aimed at resuscitating the objection that was overruled by the court.
The prosecutor informed the court that though the name of the witness was not listed but her statement, which was used in the earlier trial of the defendants from High Court to Supreme Court, were in page 471-477 of the Proof-of-Evidence.
He added that the agency had been calling the witness since 2008, and used her evidence when the matter was fresh.
He therefore urged the court to admit the documents as well as, allow the witness to continue with her evidence.
Consequently, the presiding judge, Justice Idris, adjourned till Thursday, for ruling of both parties submissions, as well as continuation of trial.
In the amended charge marked FHC/L/56C/08, Dr. Kalu and other accused persons were alleged to have allegedly diverted about N3.2 billion from Abia State Government’s treasury between 2001 and 2005.
They were also alleged to have used the following banks to perpetrate the alleged fraud, Manny Bank, Spring Bank Plc, the defunct Standard Trust Bank and Fin Land Bank, now First City Monument Bank (FCMB).
In counts one to 10, Uzor Kalu was alleged to have between August 13, 2003 and August 10, 2005, while he was the Abia State Governor, procured Slok Nigeria Limited, the company solely belongs to him and his family members, retained in his account domiciled with the Apapa branch of First Inland Bank Plc, the total sum of N2. 502, 600 billion, which formed parts of funds Illegally derived from the treasury of Abia State government, through defunct Manny Bank which were converted into several bank drafts before they were paid into the account of Slok Nigeria Limited.
In counts 11 to 20, Slok Nigeria Limited and one Emeka Abone, said to be at large, were also alleged to have between April 29, 2003 and August 10, 2005, retained in their various accounts domiciled with the Apapa branch of First Inland Bank now FCMB, the total sum of N2.493 billion, on behalf of Orji Kalu, who was then the Executive Governor of Abia State, and that the money formed parts of funds Illegally derived from the treasury of the state government, through Manny Bank.
In count 22 to 33 of the charge, Kalu, Udeh Jones Udeogu, Slok Nigeria Limited and Emeka Abone, who were said to be at large, were alledged to have between August 13, 2003 and August 10, 2005, collaborated and concealed the genuine origin of the total sum of N2.187,400 billion, which formed parts of funds Illegally derived from the treasury of Abia State government, through Manny Bank and converted and paid the said sum into the account of Slok Nigeria Limited, with the Apapa branch of First Inland Bank Plc.
While in count 34, Orji Uzor Kalu, Udeh Jones Udeogu, Slok Nigeria Limited and Emeka Abone said to be at large, between May 2002 and December 2005, conspired among themselves to commit offence of money laundering of funds Illegally derived from the treasury of Abia State government.
The alleged offences according to the EFCC are contrary to sections 17(c) 16, 14(1)(b)17(a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2003, and sections 427 of the same Act.