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Supreme Court Gives Reason Orji Uzor Kalu's Conviction and Sentencing was Nullified

Supreme Court Gives Reason Why Orji Uzor Kalu's Conviction and Sentencing was Nullified

The Abuja Supreme Court on Friday overturned the conviction and sentence of former Abia State Governor Orji Uzor-Kalu for corruption because the trial judge, Judge Mohammed Liman, did not have the authority to pass sentence in Kalu's trial as in his time.

According to the Apex Court in a unanimous decision by Judge Ejembi Eko, the circumstance on which Judge Liman based his sentence lacked constitutional basis.

Judge Liman, who is currently the judge of the Court of Appeal, had found the former governor guilty of corruption to the tune of N 7.1 billion last December and sentenced him to 12 years in recovery.

While Kalu and a finance director, Jones Udeogo, who served as governor under him, were both sentenced to prison terms of 12 and 10 years respectively, his company, Slok Nigeria Limited, was liquidated and its assets forfeited to the federal government.

Dissatisfied with the court's verdict, the second and third defendants had appealed to the Court of Appeal to overturn Judge Liman's verdict on grounds of jurisdiction.

The appellants argued that the Federal Court of Justice in Lagos was not competent to convict them because the trial judge was no longer a judge of the Federal Court but of the Court of Appeal.

However, when the judgement was pronounced on appeal in March this year, a three-member committee of the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal on the grounds of inadequacy.

The Court of Appeal ruled in its judgment read by Judge Olabisi Ige that Section 98(3) and (4) of the Criminal Justice Act 2015 did not apply to the appellants' case.

"There is nothing wrong with the decision of the trial court.  The appellants' appeal is not an issue," the judge stated.

"If a court has jurisdiction/authority, the fact that it does so under a wrong law is not a reason to overrule it.  The rights of the appellants have not been violated," the Court of Appeal had ruled.

Still not satisfied, the appellants took their case to the Supreme Court, where a ruling in their favour was handed down on Friday.

The seven-member panel, chaired by Judge Amina Augie, agreed with the appellants that the court did not have the authority to convict and sentence the defendants.

It should be recalled that in 2007, the Commission on Economic and Financial Crime (EFCC) brought a charge of 39 charges against Kalu and the others.

However, the trial suffered several setbacks over the 12 years it lasted.

In order to prevent another setback in the case, the then President of the Court of Appeal, Judge Zainab Bulkachuwa, had given a fiat to Judge Liman, who was one of the newly promoted judges on the bench of the Court of Appeal, to return to the lower court to close cases that he had tried before his appeal.

Without such an instruction, Judge Liman, as a judge of the Court of Appeal, cannot close the case and pronounce a verdict in the case.

The implication is that the case would then have been assigned to another judge who would then have to start the case all over again.

However, the Apex Court found in its decision that section 396(7) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015, on the basis of which Judge Liman sentenced and sentenced Kalu, is unconstitutional.

In the opinion of Apex Court, the trial court acted without jurisdiction when it convicted Kalu, his company, Slok Nigeria Limited and Mr. Udeogu.

Judge Eko noted that the trial judge, Judge Liman, who had previously been promoted to the Court of Appeal, did not have the authority to rejoin the Supreme Court.

As a result, the Crown Court overturned the verdict that convicted the defendants and ordered a new trial.

The Supreme Court's Chief Justice was also ordered to assign the case to another judge for retrial.

Kalu has been in custody since December 4 last year. He has now regained his freedom and would face a new trial.

He was arrested for embezzling funds from the state of Abia.

Content created and supplied by: FocusPoint (via Opera News )

Apex Court Ejembi Eko Jones Udeogo Kalu Mohammed Liman

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