The cashier at the Abia State Government House, Umuahia during the tenure of former Governor Orji Uzor Kalu, Mr. Romanus Madu, claimed on Monday that some fictitious names were used to request and divert several millions of naira from the bank account of Government House in 2005.
Madu stated this at the resumed trial of Kalu for an alleged N2.9bn fraud before the Federal High Court in Lagos.
The former governor, alongside his company, Slok Nigeria Limited, and Jones Udeogu, who served under him as Director of Finance in Abia State, is being prosecuted for the alleged fraud by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
The EFCC arraigned them before Justice Mohammed Idris on 34 counts of money laundering on October 31, 2016 but they pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Madu, who has now risen to the position of Permanent Secretary in the Abia State, was the third witness that the EFCC would bring to court in its bid to prove the charges against Kalu and his alleged accomplices.
At the Monday proceedings in the case, Madu explained that as then cashier of the Government House, Umuhia, his duty entailed releasing funds in form of imprests for weekly maintenance works at the State House.
He explained that he carried out his duties under the instruction of the then Director of Finance, Udeogu.
However, when the prosecutor, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), showed him certain documents issued in his name requesting various cash sums, Madu said he had no knowledge of the requests.
Among several such requests were ones dated August 2, 2005 for the sums of N26m and N15m; June 3, 2005 for the sums of N19.5m and 21.3m; and one dated July 7, 2005 for the sum of N21.3m.
The prosecutor also showed Madu several bank drafts raised in his name and the names of Onigwe Ozoh, Obasi John, Ogbonna J.
Madu denied knowledge of two requests for bank drafts in the sums of N31m and N39m, which had his name.
He said, “When they showed me these things at the EFCC office, I told them I was not the person who wrote them. It’s not my handwriting; my signature is not even there. I don’t know anything about bank drafts. I normally collected cash and hand over to my boss.”
He also said he did not know anyone bearing Onigwe Ozoh, Obasi John and Ogbonna J in the State Government House account department, whose names appeared on the requests for the sums of N19m, N22m, N31m and N30.8m sometime in 2005.
However, when Jacobs asked Madu to compare the handwriting in the different requests, the defence counsel, Chief Awa Kalu (SAN) and K.C. Nwofor (SAN), objected, saying Madu was not an expert witness, and lacked the competence to make such a comparison.
Justice Idris consequently adjourned till Tuesday to rule on the objection.
Earlier, Madu had explained that the Abia State House operated three banks accounts in Manny Bank, Citibank and Standard Trust Bank, adding that the signatories to the three accounts were Udeogu and the Chief of Staff to ex-governor Kalu.
He said the accounts were funded or credited through the office of the Accountant General who would have raised memo to the governor’s Chief of Staff requesting that the accounts of Government House be credited with certain amount.
He explained that if the requested money was approved, the Chief of Staff would then raise Release of Funds Paper and send it to the Director of Finance, who would then instruct issuance of voucher for the sum from the Voucher Section.
“Eventually, the voucher will be sent to the Accountant General’s Office through the Treasury Bill Office. Through this voucher, the Accountant General will raise cheques for the Government House in the name of the cashier, and the cashier collects the cheques and lodge them into our bank accounts,” Madu explained.
In the charges, the EFCC accused Kalu of diverting Abia State funds into the account of Slok Nigeria Limited.
The ex-governor was said to have allegedly diverted the funds in tranches of N200m, N50m, N200m, N300.8m, N545m, N429m, N288.4m, N190m, N157m, N152.8m, N100m, N84m and N50m between August 13, 2003 and January 12, 2005.
The offence is said to be contrary to Section 17 (c) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2003 and punishable under Section 16 of the same Act.
The EFCC accused Slok Nigeria Limited of conniving with one Emeka Abone, said to be at large, to help Kalu retain the allegedly stolen funds in its accounts, when Slok Nigeria Limited “knew or at least suspected the said Orji Uzor Kalu to have engaged in a criminal conduct.”
The EFCC said the company is liable to punishment under Section 16 of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2004.
The 2nd defendant, Udeogu, was accused of helping Kalu to pay part of the allegedly stolen funds into the account of Slok Nigeria Limited with the defunct FinBank Plc.
The offence is said to be contrary to Section 427 of the Criminal Code Cap 77, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990.
The accused, however, pleaded not guilty when the charges were read to them.