SENATE Chief Whip Orji Uzor Kalu was on Thursday jailed for 12 years after a 12-year trial for fraud and money laundering.
Kalu was prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for N7.65 billion fraud committed during his tenure as Abia State governor between 1999 and 2007.
A Federal High Court in Lagos also convicted a Director of Finance and Accounts at the Abia State Government House during Kalu’s tenure, Udeh Udeogu, and Kalu’s firm, Slok Nigeria Ltd, on each of the 39 counts brought against them by the EFCC.
Justice Mohammed Idris sentenced Kalu to 133 years imprisonment and Udeogu to 56 years imprisonment. He ordered that Slok be wound up and its assets forfeited to the Federal Government.
Kalu, who a senator on the ticket of the All Progressives Congress (APC), was sentenced to five years each on counts 1 to 11, totalling 55 years; three years each on counts 23 to 33, totalling 30 years; and 12 years each on counts 34 to 38, totalling 48 years.
The sentences will run concurrently, meaning Kalu will only spend a maximum of 12 years in jail.
Justice Idris said Kalu, the Senator representing Abia North, committed a crime against humanity.
Five ex-governors have been jailed so far for corruption. They are: Lucky Igbinedion (Edo), James Ibori (Delta), Rev. Jolly Nyame (Taraba), Senator Joshua Dariye (Plateau) and Kalu.
Twenty three others are being prosecuted.
Kalu was arraigned alongside others on an amended 39-count charge for conspiring and diverting the N7.65bn from the coffers of Abia State Government.
The defendants pleaded not guilty to the charges brought against them by the EFCC, thereby leading to their full trial.
In the course of the trial, the prosecution counsel, Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), called 19 witnesses and tendered several documents that were admitted in evidence by the court.
Two defendants testified on behalf of themselves during the trial. But, Kalu merely offered a prepared statement. He exercised his right to refuse to testify or be cross-examined.
At the last sitting of the court on October 22, 2019, Jacobs urged the judge to jail the defendants as the prosecution had proved the allegations against them.
Jacobs said the second defendant ( Udeogu) had already admitted to the offence, both in his extrajudicial statement and under cross-examination.
“The admission is binding on all the defendants,” the prosecutor said.
He added that, contrary to Kalu’s statement that Abia State did not have as much as N7bn during his administration, information from the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation showed total allocation to Abia State under Kalu was N137bn.
However, the defence urged the court to dismiss the charges, acquit and discharge their clients.
Convicting the defendants, Justice Idris held that the prosecution had established its case against the defendants.
He said Kalu’s prepared statement, which sought to exonerate him from the offences, “was of no probative value.”
Kalu, who, for health reasons, was permitted to sit during the proceedings, moistened and wiped tears with a white handkerchief as the judge read an abridged portion of the 288-page judgment.
The judge said: “The case was conclusively investigated as the prosecution conducted thorough investigations. No gaps were left unfilled. This is the acceptable practice.
“The first defendant (Kalu) failed in his obligations under the law. He acted contrary to the codes of conduct and will be dealt with accordingly.
“No evil deed will go unpunished. The offences are anti-human; it is condemned worldwide because it is a crime against humanity.”
Before sentence, Idris sought to hear from the convicts.
In his allocutus, counsel to the first convict(Orji Kalu), Prof Awa Kalu (SAN), said the former governor, was “a first-time offender and has no criminal record. He has thousands of employees depending on him for survival. He also has health issues.
“We, therefore, want the court to take these into consideration in giving out the sentence.”
Udeogu’s counsel also asked the court to temper justice with mercy, saying his client “has no criminal record.
“He was a public servant who diligently served Abia State. He acted in the moment of indiscretion and this should not be the only basis to adjudge his career,” he told the judge.
But, prosecution counsel, Jacobs, opposed the plea for leniency.
Jacobs said: “Though there is no record to show any criminal records involving the defendants, the court has sent a message to the world not to allow their personal interest to conflict with the interests of Nigerians, because no matter how long it takes, they will not escape the wrath of the law.
“This case started in 2007 and the convicts filed a series of applications to stall this case.
“For 12 years, the people of Abia State have waited for this day and it is here, when they can reclaim all that was taken from them.”
He also prayed the court to wind up the company as provided by the law and order that all its assets be forfeited to the Federal Government.
Justice Idris also ordered that Slok be wound up and its assets taken over by the Federal Government.
The judge also sentenced Udeogu to 56 years imprisonment, comprising three years each on counts 23, 23, 25, 28, 30, 31, 32, totalling 21 years; 10 years each on counts 34, 37, and 38; and five years each on count 39.
He will spend a maximum of 10 years in jail.
Walking out of the courtroom afterwards, Kalu suggested that he had a role to play in the national politics of 2023.
The Senate Chief Whip smiled at reporters and said, ‘2023, here we come’ as he was led out by Correctional Services officials.
He was also seen asking prison warders, “where are you taking us to?”
The case began in 2007 when they were first arraigned for the offences, but before a different judge.
In an amended 39 counts, the EFCC proved that they conspired and diverted N7.65bn from the coffers of the Abia State Government.
The anti-graft agency alleged that Kalu, who was governor between 1999 and 2007, “did procure Slok Nigeria Limited – a company solely owned by you and members of your family – to retain in its account, domiciled with the then Inland Bank Plc, Apapa branch, Lagos, an aggregate sum of N7,197,871,208.7 on your behalf.”
It claimed further that the N7.1bn “formed part of the funds illegally derived from the treasury of the Abia State Government and which was converted into several bank drafts before they were paid into the said company’s account.”
Jacobs said the ex-governor violated Section 17(c) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2004, and was liable to be punished under Section 16 of the same Act.
Apart from the N7.1bn, which he was accused of laundering, the ex-governor and other defendants were accused of receiving N460m allegedly stolen from the state government treasury between July and December 2002.
The prosecutor said they breached Section 427 of the Criminal Code Act, Cap 77, Laws of the Federation.
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