Thursday, March 9, 2017 5:12 pm
By Akin Kuponiyi
The hope of former Abia State Governor, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, to knock out one of the key prosecution witnesses in his ongoing trial over alleged N3.2 billion fraud, on Thursday, suffered a set-back as the court held that the United Bank for Africa (UBA) is competent to testify in the suit filed against the former governor.
Justice Mohammed Idris made the order while delivering ruling in an objection raised on the competence of a top United Bank for Africa (UBA) Plc staff, Christiana Ohiri to give evidence in the ongoing trial of Kalu and two others.
The court consequently ordered the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to file all additional Proof-of-Evidence that will include the name of all witnesses and summary of the statement.
Kalu, his company, Slok Nigeria Limited, and his Commissioner of Finance, Mr. Udeh Udeogu, are standing trial before the court on an amended 34-count criminal charge of N3.2 billion fraud.
In the ruling, the judge said: “On the competence of the witness, it’s true that her name is not listed, and not indicated that UBA representative will be called to give evidence but the rule of practice must bring to forth. It is clear that the witness is not listed. I have no doubt that the witness is competent to give evidence in this trial.”
” The prosecution should comply with the Provision of Section 379(1) of ACJA, it is directed to supply the defence with additional Proof-of-Evidence”.
After the ruling, the prosecutor, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), urged the court to allow him to insert the names of the witness he intend to call in the matter, on the ground that the witness came from Abia State, and that it may not be easy for him to bring her back to Lagos.
He said: “I appeal to court and counsels to allow me to use my hand to insert the name of the witness in the additional Proof-of-Evidence. She came all the way from Abia State, and some counsels came from Abuja too.
“My ability to bring her back is my fear. There is no way the defence will be prejudiced, because we have been using her statement since 2008, so I plea with the court to allow me insert her name in the list”.
However, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), lawyer to Kalu, urged the court not to grant the prosecutor’s application, saying that such application is aimed at upturning the ruling of the court.
He said: “the prayer is aimed at upturning the ruling of the court. Section 379(1)(a), is not just to list the witness, but summary of their statements, we need to see her statement”.
Chief Ozekhome (SAN), while urging the court not to grant the application, urged the court to adjourn the matter so that the prosecution can put its ‘house in order’.
Also, Chief Akumah (SAN), and Chief K. C. Nwofor, counsel to the second and third accused persons, equally aligned themselves with the submission of Ozekhome (SAN).
Both lawyers said granting the prosecution’s application will amount to contravening Section 379(1)(a) of ACJA, which made it mandatory and fundamental for the prosecution to file all applications and serve same on defence.
They jointly urged the court to reject the prosecutor’s application.
In responding, the prosecutor, Mr. Jacobs (SAN), said the defence has not been able to tell the court any prejudice they will suffer if his application is granted.
But Justice Idris after listening to both parties, restated that Section 379(1)(a) of ACJA is mandatory, because it was introduced through legislation and is meant to protect the right of the litigant, the defendant and the public.
He therefore urged the prosecutor to tell the court how long it will take to serve the defence the additional list of witnesses and summary of the statement. However, the prosecution promised to serve the defence today, so that the trial will continue on Friday.
The submission was vehemently opposed by the lawyers to the accused on the ground that they will need time to study the witnesses’ statements.
Consequently, Justice Idris, while urging the prosecution to file all additional Proof-of-Evidence and serve same on the defence, adjourned the matter till April 10, 11, 12 and 13 for continuation of trial.
It will be recalled that the defence lawyers had on Wednesday, objected to the competence of Mrs. Christiana Ohiri, the Umuahia branch manager of UBA, called by the prosecution to give evidence in the trial of the trio on the ground that her name was not listed on the Proof-of-Evidence, and that her statement was not attached to the Proof-of-Evidence also.
But the prosecution led by Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), had urged the court to discontenance the defence objections.
Jacobs (SAN), had informed the court that it was only the banker’s name that was not on the witness list, but her statement is in page 471-477 of the Proof-of-Evidence.
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.
In the amended charge marked FHC/L/56C/08, Dr. Kalu and other accused persons were alleged to have allegedly diverted about N3.2 billions 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).
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.