N7.6bn fraud: Trial of Orji Uzor Kalu will soon begin in Lagos – Bawa

By Ihechi Enyinnaya

Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Chairman, Abdulrasheed Bawa has revealed that the trial of former Abia State Governor Orji Uzor Kalu and Deputy Chief will soon start in Lagos.

This was contained in an interview published in the EFCC’s in-house magazine: “ALERT”, which was made public on Tuesday.

Kalu was convicted by the Lagos Division of the Federal High Court on Thursday, 5 December 2019 and sentenced to 12 years in prison for N7. 65 billion fraud. He was convicted for defrauding the government of Abia State where he was a governor for 8 years using his company, Slok Nigeria Limited.

Bawa said: “The position is very clear. The EFCC succeeded in 12 years to get him convicted at the Federal High Court. Of course, he went to the Supreme Court, and because the judge that convicted him has been elevated, the ruling was made and the EFCC as a respecter of the rule of law, we have taken it as it is. The Supreme Court has ordered that we should go back to the Federal High Court in Lagos.

“Now, we are at the Federal High Court in Abuja, and we have applied to the court for the case to be transferred to Lagos as ordered by the Supreme Court to enable us start all over again.

“It however, draws a precedence, and those are the issues; law as the lawyers will say, is a living thing; we had the ACJA in 2015, we have had this problem of elevation of judges from High Court to Court of Appeal, and we pushed that they should be given the opportunity to finish their cases, because some of these cases have taken a very long time.

“We thought we had succeeded in getting this in ACJA, The law was however, not seen as such. Now, we may have to solve the problem from the constitution, and then, we will be home and dry.”

On the June 1 commencement date for the decalaration of assets by bankers, Bawa said: “It has generated a lot of interest. What we said is that, ‘look, there is a law called Bank Employees Declaration of Assets Act 1986’.

“I was six-years-old when that law came into being. It’s not something new. And the EFCC did not say ‘come and declare your assets as bankers’. What we said is that come June 1, we are going to be demanding for it, because we are empowered by law, to demand information from the private sector, in the discharge of our mandate.

“The EFCC is empowered by law to enforce all economic and financial crime laws in Nigeria. And that is the position. The financial institutions in this country are very critical in trying to curtail the problem of financial crimes.

“At the tail-end of every financial crime, if the criminal wants to get the proceeds, they conspire with them. So, we said we need to know what you have. There hasn’t been full compliance with that law.

“I don’t know if my memory serves me right, but in 2016, the CBN also called for the bankers to comply. Yes, some have complied, some have not. The law is there. All we are saying is that come June 1, we are going to be demanding for it. We want to look at it vis-a-vis other information that we have. It is something that as an institution, we have resolved to do. Of course, we expect stiff resistance, but we are determined.”

On his appointment as the youngest EFCC chairman, Bawa said he is not intimidated in any form.

He added: “I am not intimidated at all. Rather, I am challenged. The EFCC itself is being challenged. Nigerians, because successive leaders have come from the Police, they felt that the EFCC is supposed to be headed by the police.

“But, the provision of the EFCC Establishment Act is very clear. It says a serving or retired security officer of a law enforcement agency. Then, the question is ‘who is a law enforcement agent? The NIA, the SSS, the Nigeria Police, Customs; these are all law enforcement agencies.

“I’m humbled that EFCC has grown and I happen to be the first non-Police Chairman of the EFCC. It’s a huge challenge; we have been there from the beginning. I was part of the Course One of the EFCC-trained operatives.

“Of course, my colleagues and I rose through the ranks – from ordinary team leaders, to sectional heads, heading various zones, and the government felt that time has come for somebody from within the system [to head the Commission] and I happen to be that person. So we are not intimidated. We know what the EFCC is set out to do.”

Asked why the EFCC was always after small fries like Yahoo boys instead of politicians and public officers who have looted the treasury, Bawa said EFCC has a mandate to prosecute those who have crossed the line.

He said: “It is part of our responsibility to see that the ‘small fries’ are prosecuted as well as the ‘big fries’. Advance Fee Fraud, like cybercrime, is where the small fries normally play around.

“They cross the line there, and we charge them. And more often than not, we secure their conviction. We also charge the big ones to court as well. But issues of delay or whether or not we secure conviction at the end of the day, is for the court to determine.

“And over the years, for the first time, governors were prosecuted, senators were prosecuted, ministers were prosecuted. We have tried, and we are improving, to ensure that more and more of them are also charged and convicted. We are working tirelessly on that.”

Bawa also revealed tha $153 million dollars and over 80 assets were recovered from former Petroleum Minister, Dieziani Allison-Madueke.

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