Justice Lateefa Okunnu of a Lagos High Court sitting in Ikeja, today stopped further attempts by a former Managing Director of Bank PHB, Mr. Francis Atuche to delay trial in a N27.5Billion suit instituted against him and two other defendants by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
At the resumed trial of the case on Wednesday, EFCC counsel, Kemi Pinheiro (SAN) insisted that the defence team, led by Tayo Oyetibo (SAN) call Atuche or his wife Elizabeth, to the witness box, following their failure to produce a witness who, according to them, was meant to come in from Abuja, but could not make it due to bad weather.
“I recall the defence telling this court that they will close their case on Tuesday, and today (Wednesday), a witness is absent again. My Lord, apart from the witness that is not present in court, the defence said the defendants will give evidence in this case and the defendants are in court and no reason has been given why the first and second defendants cannot testify. I implore my Lord, to order the defence to call the defendants to give their evidence in order not to waste the time of the court”. Oyetibo countered that saying “the evidence of the witness need to go before those of the defendants.”
After listening to both arguments, Justice Okuunu ruled that “a good reason must be given for adjournments and the court is bound to act judicially and judiciously. I have also seen that there has been rainfall but not a storm. I do not believe that any cogent and tenable reason has been given for the absence of the witness, so this court is being asked to wait at the leisure of the witness. I urge the defence to call the first or second defendant to the stand, to give evidence. The court will therefore stand down this case to enable the defense confer with their client”.
At the resumed session, Oyetibo further argued that “I came into the case after Chief Idigbe (SAN) who was the defense counsel, took ill and travelled abroad for treatment and I have not had access to the volumes of documents earlier tendered. I believe the first and second defendants should be accorded the opportunity to be led in evidence by Chief Idigbe, who was present when evidence was tendered against the first and second defendants. I pray the court to adjourn to the dates earlier fixed”.
Pinheiro immediately reminded the court that Oyetibo came into the case more than a year ago, on February 11, 2013, which was enough time for him to be fully abreast of the matter.
According to him, “the defense filed a colossal 475- page address on the no -case submission, and it was a full analysis of the case, attacking the prosecution’s evidences and Oyetibo contributed in no small measure to that document. Against this background, I find his excuse untenable. But as a midway suggestion, let one of the defendants be called to the witness box and sworn-in before taking an adjournment”.
Justice Okuunu then ruled that, no tangible reason had been given for a second adjournment, so defence should call their witness and the court can call for an adjournment. Atuche was called into the witness box and was still giving an account of his biography when Justice Okuunu stopped him and adjourned the matter till July 7, 8 and 11, 2014.
Francis Atuche, Elizabeth Atuche and Ugo Anyanwu are standing trial on a 47-count charge for allegedly stealing N27.5 billion from Bank PHB while Atuche was the Managing Director of the bank.