The Federal High Court, Abuja, on Monday, ordered the suspension of the re-trial of a former Abia State governor, Orji Kalu, for N7.1bn fraud charges.
The judge, Inyang Ekwo, made the order in a ruling granting permission to Mr Kalu to file a motion to challenge the re-trial.
The court ruled that the leave granted the defendant would operate as a stay of proceedings, even when section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, prohibits all Nigerian courts from entertaining an application for stay of proceedings in criminal matters.
Besides, the order halting the retrial negates the May 8, 2020 judgment of the Supreme Court.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had on February 2, 2021, informed the judge that the proper forum for the trial of the case was the Lagos Division of the court, not Abuja.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how the EFCC’s counsel, Chile Okoroma, informed the judge that the commission was awaiting the Chief Judge’s decision on its request for the transfer of the case to the Lagos Division.
Mr Ekwo had then adjourned the case till June 7 for feedback.
Kalu returns to court
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Mr Kalu, through his lawyer, Awal Kalu, a professor and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, returned to court on Monday with an ex parte application, seeking permission to seek a judicial review of the proprietary of his retrial.
Being an ex parte hearing, the EFCC did not participate in Monday’s proceedings.
Ruling on the ex-governor’s application on Monday, Mr Ekwo held that the applicant had placed sufficient materials of value to be granted permission for judicial review of his retrial.
The judge also granted Mr Kalu permission to apply for an order of perpetual injunction against the Federal Government through the EFCC to prohibit his retrial.
The court gave Mr Kalu seven days to file and serve the EFCC all the processes he intends to use to challenge the legality of the retrial.
The matter was adjourned till February 23 for mention.
Grounds for opposing retrial
The EFCC had previously prosecuted and secured the conviction of Mr Kalu and his co-defendants on 39 counts of fraud involving about N7.1billion at the Federal High Court in Lagos.
Mr Kalu, a serving senator representing Abia North and Senate’s Chief Whip, was convicted alongside Ude Udeogu, a former director of finance and accounts with the Abia State Government, and Mr Kalu’s company, Slok Nigeria Limited.
The trial judge, Mohammed Idris, who is now a Justice of the Court of Appeal, sentenced Mr Kalu to 12 years imprisonment and Mr Udeogu to 10 years jail term.
But the Supreme Court, on May 8, 2020, in a unanimous judgment of its seven-member panel, nullified the judgment and ordered a retrial.
The apex court ruled and held that the trial was a nullity on the grounds that Mr Idris, the trial judge, had been elevated to the Court of Appeal and no longer a judge of the Federal High Court as of the time he concluded the trial and handed down his verdict.
The leave granted Mr Kalu by the Federal High Court in Abuja on Monday permits him to commence a legal action aimed at prohibiting the EFCC from retrying him on the same alleged N7.1 billion money laundering charges.
He contended in his application for the permission that having been tried once by EFCC, convicted and sentenced in the same charge, FHC/ABJ/CR/56/ 2007, it would amount to double jeopardy for him to be subjected to a fresh trial on the same charge.
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