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Government & Politics

N125bn Theft: EFCC Begs Court To Shift Francis Atuche’s Trial

Francis-Atuche
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The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on Monday pleaded with a Federal High Court in Lagos to further shift the trial of a former Managing Director of the defunct Bank PHB, Francis Atuche, from March to April.

Atuche is being prosecuted by the EFCC for an alleged banking fraud running into about N125bn.

He was charged with an amended 45-count alongside a former Managing Director of the defunct Spring Bank Plc, Charles Ojo.

The accused were arraigned before Justice Saliu Saidu sometime in 2009.

The judge had last December adjourned the case till Tuesday for mention, while March 22, 2016 was fixed for the EFCC to open its case against the accused.

But at the mention of the case on Tuesday the prosecuting counsel for the EFCC, Mr. Kemi Pinheiro (SAN), pleaded with the judge to further shift the trial date from March till April, pledging the prosecution’s readiness to open its case on that day.

Pinheiro admitted that the case had been stalled a number of times, adducing the delay to congested court schedule rather than lack of due diligence on the part of the prosecution.

He informed the judge that the prosecution was ready, adding that it will call only four witnesses to prove its case against the accused persons.

Pinheiro said, “We seek the indulgence of this court to vacate the March 22 and 23 date and graciously accommodate us on April 14 and 15.

“Prosecution could not go on on two occasions, not because of lack of diligence on the part of prosecution but due to the court’s schedule.

“We intend to call four witnesses in the matter and we are willing and prepare to argue our case on that day. “

The defence counsel, L. K. Oraghu and Victor Obaro, did not oppose Pinheiro’s application for further adjournment, following which the judge adjourned.

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Justice Yunusa said,  “Since the parties have agreed to adjourn the case, I have no choice but to adjourn.

“The matter is hereby adjourned till April 14 and 15, 2016, for the trial of accused persons.”

The amended 45 counts preferred against Atuche and Ojo bordered on conspiracy, reckless granting and approval of loans, manipulation of shares and money laundering.

The ex-bank chiefs were accused of committing general banking fraud and granting of credit facilities without following due process at the time they were the bosses of the defunct banks.

The EFCC further accused them of conspiring to and indeed acquiring shares of Keystone Bank Plc using depositors’ funds.

The anti-graft agency specifically accused Atuche of acquiring N3.5bn shares of Bank PHB, using proceeds of unlawful loans granted to Tradjek Nigeria Limited, a subsidiary of Futureview Financial Services Ltd.

The offences, according to the EFCC, were allegedly committed between September 2006 and year 2009.

The EFCC alleged that Atuche and Ojo violated Section 7(1)(b) of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Fraud Related Offences Act.

The men were also charged for violating Section 14(1) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, as well as Section 516 of the Criminal Code Act Cap 38, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004.

But they pleaded not guilty to the charges and are currently on bail in the sum of N50m each with two sureties in like sum.

Earlier on June 22, 2015, Justice Lateef Lawal-Akapo of a Lagos State High Court in Ikeja discharged Atuche, his wife, Elizabeth and a former Chief Financial Officer of Bank PHB, Ugo Anyanwu, of a N25.7bn theft charges filed against them by the EFCC.

Punch


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