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N25.7bn Fraud: Appeal Court Upholds Conviction Of Ex-Bank PHB MD, Francis Atuche

Shola Soyele  
Updated June 23, 2022
Francis Atuche and his wife were in court on September 28, 2017.

 

The Court of Appeal, Lagos Division has upheld the conviction of a former Managing Director of the defunct Bank PHB Plc, Francis Atuche, for a N25.7bn fraud.

The court also upheld the conviction of Atuche’s accomplice and co-convict, Ugo Anyanwu, who was the bank’s former Chief Financial Officer.

An abridged decision of the court to this effect was read by Justice Sadiq Umar. The other justices on the panel are Justice Adebukola Banjoko and Justice Kayode Bada.

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The 3 man panel in their decision also upheld in part, the June 16, 2021 judgment of Justice Lateefah Okunnu of the Lagos High Court, Ikeja.

They also upheld the discharge and acquittal of Atuche’s wife, Elizabeth.

The EFCC had in 2011 arraigned the defendants before Justice Lateefah Okunnu over a N25.7b fraud.

But Atuche and the co-defendants approached the Court of Appeal after about three years, to challenge their trial by the lower court for lack of jurisdiction.

In a judgment delivered in September 2016, the court ordered Justice Okunnu to hand off the trial but did not quash the charge against the defendants.

The EFCC then approached the Supreme Court to set aside the decision of the appellate court and order a trial in the matter.

After listening to the EFCC’s counsel, the apex court directed that the case be returned to Justice Okunnu for the continuation of trial.

Atuche and his wife returned to Justice Okunnu with Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Kemi Pinheiro prosecuting the case on behalf of the EFCC with the fiat of the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN).

In his submissions before the court, Pinheiro opposed Atuche’s contention that the funds in dispute were loaned, not stolen.

Justice Okunnu agreed with Pinheiro and held that since the money belonged to the bank, it was capable of being stolen.

“The first and third defendants did not debunk the evidence of the prosecution that the loans were used to purchase shares. They rather contended that the monies granted as the loan could be used for whatever purposes,” Okunnu stated.

She subsequently sentenced Atuche and Anyanwu, while Atuche’s wife was acquitted.

Following the June 16, 2021 sentence, the appellants challenged their conviction and asked the appellate court to set aside the decision of the lower court.

The appeal was heard in April, following which the court adjourned till today, Thursday for judgment.