How Orji Uzor Kalu, ex-aide, Jones Udeogo, bagged 23 years jail term over N7.2b fraud

After 12 years of standing trial before a Federal High Court in Lagos Nigeria, the former Governor of Abia State and a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Dr Orji Uzor Kalu, was on Thursday convicted and sentenced to a concurrent jail term of 12 years imprisonment over N7.2 billion fraud.
The second defendant who was Commissioner for Finance under him, Jones Udeh Udeogo, was also convicted and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment.
The two are going to spend 22 years in jail (12 years for Kalu; 10 years for Udeogu).
The sentence was handed down to the convicts by Justice Mohammed Idris J.C.A. who was given a fiat by the President of Court of Appeal, Justice Buchachiwa, to conclude the trial.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for the past 12 years prosecuted Orji Kalu together with his former Commissioner for Finance, Jonnes Ude Udeogo, and a company, Slok Nigeria Ltd, on the alleged offences.

The Commission had on October 31, 2016, preferred a 34-count charge bordering on N3.2 billion fraud against the accused. However, the charges were on July 16, 2018, amended to 39 counts with the sum increased to N7.2 billion.

The convicts had each pleaded not guilty to the charges, and were granted bails.
TheNiche recalls that in May 2018, Justice Idris, who sat as trial judge in the fraud case against Kalu, was elevated to the Court of Appeal.
He, had however, conducted trial by a fiat from the Appeal Court President, authorising him to continue and conclude the case
Following accelerated hearing, Idris concluded trial of the defendants in August 2019 and adjourned the case for adoption of addresses.
On October 22, both the prosecution and defence counsel respectively adopted their written submissions before the court and Justice Idris consequently reserved judgement until December 2.
On December 2, judgement could not be delivered as the judge was away for an election appeal tribunal. The case was rescheduled for December 5.
On December 5, the court was beefed up with tough security personnel who admitted only lawyers fully robed and journalists with means of identification.
The judge came into the court at excatly 9.10a.m. and informed parties that the judgment was 288 pages.
Deliveringn his judgement, Justice Idris first read the chronicle of all the counts of the charge, and found Kalu and his company guilty in all counts - one to 39 of the charge.
The court also found the second defendant (Udeogo) guilty of 34 counts of the charge.

While sentencing the defendants, having found them guilty, Idris sentenced Kalu as follows:

On counts one, two, three, and four, he was sentenced to five years imprisonment on each count, while on counts six to 11, he was sentenced to three years imprisonment each.
On counts 23 to 33 he sentenced the first defendant (Kalu) to three years imprisonment on each count, while on counts 34 to 38, he sentenced him to 12 years imprisonment each. On the last count 39, he sentenced him to five years imprisonment.
For the second defendant (Udeogo), the court sentenced him to three years imprisonment each on counts 23 to 33, and sentenced him to 10 years imprisonment each on counts 34 to 38, while he bagged five years imprisonment on counts 39.
For the company, Slok Nigeria Ltd, the court ordered that it be wound up and all its assets forfeited to the federal government.
The court held that the terms of imprisonment shall run concurrently.
Meanwhile, Justice Idris, while handing down the sentence, made a strong warning to public officers in charge of public office to eschew acts of corruption as they are trustees of the people's funds.

"Officers swear to uphold the Fundamental objective and directive principles of state policies as contained in the constitution.
"The defendant pledged that in the exercise of his tenure as governor, not to allow his personal interest influence official conduct; he pledged to devote himself to the service and well being of his people in accordance with the provisions of the law and not to endanger the continuance of his country.

"With due respect, I hold the view that the first defendant has failed in his obligation under the constitution; with due respect I hold that the defendant has acted contrary to his oath of office and he shall be held responsible.
"All of those who have aided and abated him, will also be brought to book.
"Let me remind those who hold positions of authority in this country, that they shall all be held responsible for their conducts when they act contrary to the law, the same law shall be applied.
"Let me also borrow from the words of the late Dele Giwa when he stated, "No evil deed shall go unpunished, any evil done by man shall be accounted for if not now, later.
"It is in this light and for the forgoing, that I again find the defendants guilty as follows:
"First defendant is found guilty on all counts being counts one to 39, while the second defendant is found guilty on counts 23, 24, 25, 27, 28, 30, 31, 32, 34, 37, 38 and 39 of the charge.

"The second defendant is found not guilty of counts 26, 29, 33, 35 and 36.
"The third defendant is found guilty on all counts being count 12.”
The court held that the terms shall run concurrently.

TheNiche reports that the defendants were first charged with 107 counts, and thereafter rearraigned on 112 counts.

On May 20, 2016 the first amended charge had 34 counts of N3.4 billion fraud, while on July 16, a second amended charge was filed.
Trial proceeded and ended in October with parties filing written addresses on October 22. During trial on November 12, 2018, Kalu was absent in court after being absent on a previous adjourned date of November 5, 2018.
Although, defence counsel had informed the court that he was away for medical treatment In Germany, the court had threatened to revoke his bail.
The court had ordered that at the point of his entry into the country, he must submit relevant travelling document and self, to the EFCC, failing which he will be arrested.
In the charge, the defendants 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 one 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.

In counts one to 10, the defendants were alleged to have retained about N2.5 billion in different accounts, which funds were said to belong to the Abia State Government.

Cumulatively, in all the counts, the defendants were alleged to have diverted over N7.2 billion from the Abia State government’s treasury, during Kalu’s tenure as governor.
The offence is said to have contravened the provisions of Sections 15(6), 16, and 21 of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2005.
It also contravenes the provisions of 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.

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