A former governor of Abia state, and serving sentor, Orji Uzor Kalu, has been sentenced to 12 years in jail after he was found guilty of N7.65bn fraud.
The 12 year sentence is the highest among the 39 counts convicting the defendants, the lowest sentence being three years.
The court found the second convict, his former commissioner of Finance Jonnes udeogo guilty of 34 counts.
Kalu, who is the Senate Chief Whip of the 9th Assembly, was found guilty by a Federal High Court in Lagos on fraud charges and remanded at the Ikoyi Correctional Centre.
His conviction and sentencing to 12 years in jail yesterday came 12 years after the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) filed N7.65 billion fraud charge against him.
The EFCC had filed the charge in 2007. Meanwhile, the Presidency yesterday warned those stealing public funds, saying they would also be jailed.
Kalu was convicted alongside his firm, Slok Nigeria Limited, and Jones Udeogu, who served under him as the Director of Finance and Account at the Abia State Government House in Umuahia.
While Udeogu was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment, the trial judge, Justice Mohammed Idris, ordered the winding up of Slok Nigeria Limited, holding that his assets and properties be forfeited to government.
Kalu was convicted of the entire 28 counts in which his name featured out of the 39 counts filed against the trio. On each of counts 1-11 and 39, he was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment; on each of counts 23-33, he was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment; and on each of counts 34-38, he was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment.
Justice Idris, however, held that the sentences shall run concurrently, which means that Kalu will spend a maximum of 12 years in jail. For Udeogu, Justice Idris found him guilty of 11 out of the 16 counts in which his name featured.
He was pronounced not guilty on five counts. On each of counts 23-25 and 27-32, Udeogu was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment while on each of counts 34-38, he was sentenced to 10 years and he was sentenced to five years on count 39.
Like Kalu, Udeogu’s sentences would also run concurrently, meaning he will be spending a maximum of 10 years in jail. Justice Idris held that from the evidence before him, he found that Kalu violated his oath of office as governor between 1999 and 2007.
He said, “with due respect, I hold the view that the first defendant has failed in his obligation; it is unacceptable. With due respect, I state that the first defendant acted contrary to his oath of office and he shall accordingly be held responsible for his actions. All those who have aided and abetted him will also be dealt with.
“Let me remind those who hold positions of authority in this country that they shall be held responsible for their conducts. When they act contrary to the law, the same law will catch up with them. I will like to borrow a leaf from the words of the late Dele Giwa, who stated that, ‘No evil deed will go unpunished; any evil done by man to man will be redressed, if not now, certainly later. If not by man, then by God, for the victory of evil over good is temporary’. “It is in this light and circumstances that I again find the defendants guilty.”
The judge described money laundering as “a grave offence and crime against humanity” adding that, “Money laundering offences are anti-human and among the most dangerous. It is condemned worldwide because it is a crime against humanity.
“The defendants are, no doubt, first-time offenders and for this reason and keeping with the spirit of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), the court will temper justice with mercy but only in accordance with the dictates of the law.”
The judge also said the judiciary was committed to the fight against corruption, but it was left for the prosecutorial agencies to conduct thorough, comprehensive and conclusive investigations before going to court. He hailed the investigation that culminated to the charge as being in-depth and conclusive, adding that, “No gaps were left unfilled. This is the acceptable standard.”
Kalu was heard telling officials of the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCS), to be gentle with him and not to put handcuff on him in the public. “Where are you taking us to now? Please don’t handcuff me. I will follow you,” he said.