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Cablegate: Kalu's Corruption Trial Pitches Efcc Against Attorney

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RR RUEHMA RUEHPA
DE RUEHOS #0686 2951240
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 221240Z OCT 07
FM AMCONSUL LAGOS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 9500
INFO RUEHUJA/AMEMBASSY ABUJA 9271
RHMCSUU/DEPT OF ENERGY WASHINGTON DC
RUEHZK/ECOWAS COLLECTIVE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS LAGOS 000686

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

STATE FOR AF/W, INR/AA
DOE FOR CAROLYN GAY

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KDEM NI
SUBJECT: KALU'S CORRUPTION TRIAL PITCHES EFCC AGAINST ATTORNEY
GENERAL

SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED; HANDLE ACCORDINGLY

1. (U) SUMMARY: The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC)
trial of former Abia State Governor Orji Uzor Kalu has set the EFCC
and Attorney General (AG), Michael Aondoaaka, on a collision course.
Aondoaaka wants the EFCC to discontinue Kalu's trial in obedience
to an earlier Abia State High Court ruling shielding Governor Kalu
from arrest and trial. The clash between the EFCC and AG has also
triggered extensive debate about whether the AG's action is
justifiable. END SUMMARY.

2. (U) On July 27, the EFCC arraigned former Abia State Governor
Orji Uzor Kalu before an Abuja High court on a 107 count charge of
money laundering, official corruption and criminal diversion of
public funds totaling about 23 million dollars (three billion
naira). On August 5, Governor Kalu wrote a letter to President
Umaru Yar'Adua, urging him to order the EFCC to discontinue the
trial and complaining the EFCC failed to obey a May 31 Abia State
High Court order to stay all actions on Kalu's case pending the
determination of a motion before it. President Yar'Adua, replying
through Aondoaaka, promised Governor Kalu that the Abia High Court
ruling would be respected. On September 3, Governor Kalu filed a
motion with the Abuja High Court asking for an order to strike all
EFCC charges against him and to vacate the terms and conditions of
bail earlier granted by the court. During the September 5 hearing
of Kalu's motion, an attorney representing Aondoaaka urged the court
comply with the Abia High Court ruling. Earlier, both the EFCC
lawyer and the Justice Minister's attorney clashed over which of
them had the power to prosecute Kalu's case. The matter was
resolved in favor of the Attoney General.

3. (U) Since the September 5 face-off between the EFCC and the
Attorney General, a heated debate has been going on among attorneys,
civil society groups, and ordinary Nigerians concerning the
perceived intervention of the Attorney General in the EFCC's
investigations. Olisa Agbakoba, President of the Nigerian Bar
Association (NBA), commended the Justice Minister for his commitment
to the rule of law. Agbakoba said if the rule of law is supreme,
then it is clear that a court order, whether rightly made or not,
must be obeyed. He said it is not right for the EFCC to decide
which court case to obey or disobey. To strengthen the rule of law
and give meaning to obedience to court order, Agbakoba said, no
criminal justice agency, including the police, should disobey any
court ruling. Several opposition parties, including the Action
Congress (AC), senior lawyers and civil society groups supported
Agbakoba. They all agreed that the rule of law is paramount in the
dispensation of justice and that the Attorney General has the power
to take over or discontinue any criminal proceeding.

4. (U) Another knowledgeable source also defended the Attorney
General's action. He said allowing the EFCC to violate court orders
under the pretext of fighting corruption could set a precedent that
could threaten respect for the rule of law. He said the EFCC ought
to challenge the Abia State Court ruling by appealing its decision,
and/or seek to have the order vacated before continuing with
Governor Kalu's case.

5. (U) Two prominent lawyers, Femi Falana, President of the West
African Bar Association (WABA) and Frontline Human Rights activist
Gani Fawehinmi however disagreed with Agbakoba. Relying on decided
cases, Falana said the Attorney General has no power to usurp the
judicial functions of the Abia State High Court. He said even if
EFCC action amounted to contempt of the Abia High Court, it is only
that court, and not the Attorney General, that can take the
appropriate action under the law. Falana said Aondoaaka's action on
a matter pending before a competent court of law amounts to a "gross
subversion of the rule of law which he claims to be defending".
Fawehinmi, however, appears to be more concerned with the crusade to
rid the country of corruption than the legal implications of
Aondoaaka's action. He called for Aondoaaka's resignation, saying
Aondoaaka constitutes an obstacle to the crusade against corruption.


6. (SBU) COMMENT: Healthy debate over the legality of the Attorney
General's actions no doubt strengthens Nigeria's democratic culture.
The debate is not merely over the legality of the AG's actions;
many see his actions as a move to protect Governor Kalu, a former
PDP chieftain, who has only recently embraced President Yar'Adua's
call for a government of national unity. Nigerians are voicing real
concerns as to whether Nigeria's chief law officer, who is also a
high ranking member of the PDP, can be impartial in criminal cases
involving key members of his party or its supporters. END COMMENT.


HUTCHINSON

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