A Federal High Court in Lagos on Tuesday, awarded damages of N2 million in favour of Mrs. Elizabeth Atuche, wife of Mr. Francis Atuche, former Managing Director of Bank PHB, against the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC).
Also joined in the suit is the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice.
The presiding judge, Justice Binta Nyako held that Elizabeth Atuche was wrongly arrested and detained by the anti-graft agency in violation of her fundamental human rights to freedom of movement and fair hearing.
The court observed that although the commission which arrested Mrs. Atuche on May 3, 2011, later took her to court for arraignment before a Lagos High Court, the time she was kept in detention, exceeded the constitutionally prescribed period of 24 hours.
Justice Nyako said “the reason given by the respondents is that the investigation was ongoing” but she noted that “the Supreme Court has said suspects should not be detained while investigation is ongoing.”
“A person arrested should be charged to court within 24 hours as in this case, there are a number of courts within Lagos jurisdiction.
“It appears to me that the arrest and detention of the Applicant (Elizabeth) has not been justified by the respondents.
“She was subsequently arraigned before a Lagos High Court; however, this was not within 48 hours of the arrest. This is a violation of her right.”
“Is she entitled to damages,” the judge asked, to which she gave a resounding “Yes!”.
She further explained that “her illegal arrest and detention in excess of the statutorily allowed period is without justification.” “Consequently, I hereby award damages of N2 million jointly and severally against the respondents” she rule.
Mrs. Atuche, who was arrested and detained by the EFCC on May 3, 2011 had filed the action to challenge her detention.
She had prayed the court for a declaration that her arrest and detention by the EFCC was illegal and unconstitutional.
She further claimed a sum of N10 million as damages from the respondents.
Elizabeth had also urged the court to restrain the EFCC from interfering with her liberty henceforth.
Release Atuche’s properties
In what seems as yet another blow to the EFCC in its trials on corruption charges, Justice Nyako also ordered the release of some of the properties seized from Francis Atuche by the EFCC.
The order of release was made sequel to two separate applications brought by two parties.
The parties, Murphis Burgher Nigeria Ltd and Messrs Eva and Efa Imoke, claimed that two of the properties attached on the order of Justice Ajakaiye (Rtd) on March 10, 2010 through an ex parte order by EFCC belonged to them and not Mr. Atuche.
The properties in question are No 27, Sanusi Fafunwa Street, Victoria Island, and No 14, Anifowoshe Street, Victoria Island, Lagos.
While giving orders releasing the properties back to the Applicants, Justice Nyako said that they must not dispose of the properties until the criminal trial against Mr. Atuche has been concluded.
Mr. Francis Atuche is being tried for alleged corrupt practices during his tenure as the boss of Bank PHB while his wife Elizabeth is facing trial at the Lagos High Court for alleged conspiracy and stealing.