Supreme Court Okays Trial Of Atuche, Wife For Fraud

The Supreme Court has ruled that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) can go ahead with the trial of the former Managing Director of the defunct Bank PHP, Mr. Francis Atuche, and his wife, Elizabeth.

The Atuches are facing charges of fraud for allegedly stealing N25.7 billion belonging to the bank.

Delivering judgment in Abuja on Wednesday, the five-man panel of justices also upturned an earlier directive by the Court of Appeal, for the Chief Judge of Lagos State to reassign the case to another judge.

The anti-graft agency had in 2011 arraigned Francis and Elizabeth Atuche, along with a former Bank PHB official Mr. Ugo Anyanwu before the Justice Lateefa Okunnu of the Lagos State High Court.

But the defendants in 2014 had successfully challenged their trial before Justice Okunnu at the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal.

However, judges of the Apex Court criticised the appellate court’s order, and in the ruling read by Justice Ejembi Eko, they noted that the lower court did not adduce any reason why it disqualified Justice Okunnu.

The Supreme Court consequently directed that the case should be returned to high court judge for continuation of trial of the defendants.

N27.5 Bn Fraud: Court Stops Atuche’s Bid to Stall Trial

 Francis_AtucheJustice 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.

Court Grants Atuche Bail

The Lagos High Court sitting in Ikeja on Wednesday granted bail to the former Managing Director of Bank PHB (now Keystone Bank), Francis Atuche who was arraigned on Tuesday on fresh charges of alleged forgery.

Presiding Justice Adeniyi Onigbanjo granted the former bank chief bail on self-recognition.

Mr. Atuche was arraigned alongside two employees of Central Shared Services Centre of Keystone Bank Ltd., Joachim Nnosiri and Uguru Onyike.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) alleged that the defendants had on March 4, 2013 attempted to smuggle forged board resolutions of some companies into Keystone Bank headquarters in Victoria Island, Lagos.

The men had pleaded not guilty and subsequently filed an application for bail.

In ruling on Atuche’s bail application, the judge said he had not violated the bail conditions earlier granted him in the other cases against him which are pending before Justice Lateefat Okunnu.

Counsel to Mr. Atuche, Mr. Tayo Oyetibo (SAN), in the application for bail had claimed that the forgery charge was subservient to the N25.7 billion theft charge before Justice Okunnu.

Mr. Oyetibo said the board resolutions which were purportedly issued by Future View Securities Ltd.,Tradjeck Ltd. and Extra Oil Ltd. were vital to the EFCC’s case against the former bank chief.

“The claims by the Managing Director of the companies, Mrs Elizabeth Ebi, that Bank PHB granted the companies a N10.9 billion loan facility without any formal request, was contradicted by these documents,” he said.

“Okunnu issued a subpoena on Keystone Bank, the successor of Bank PHB, to produce the original copies of these board resolutions”.

Mr. Oyetibo said the bank had on March 4, informed the court that they were still searching for the documents, while Mrs Ebi was further cross-examined with the copies in the possession of Mr. Atuche’s counsel.

According to him, Mrs. Ebi had denied signing the board resolutions but admitted that the signatures were similar to hers.

“Rather than leave the court to determine if the said documents were forged or not, the EFCC hurriedly arrested the defendant and charged him with forgery,” Mr. Oyetibo said.

EFCC counsel, Mr. Ben Ubi, however, maintained that the charge before the court was separate from the proceedings before Justice Okunnu.

Justice Onigbanjo has, however, fixed the 28th of March for ruling on the bail applications of Mr. Atuche’s co-defendants.

He also fixed the 4th of October for trial.

EFCC re-arraigns Francis Atuche and Charles Ojo

 

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has re-arraigned Francis Atuche and Charles Ojo both former managing directors of Bank PHB Plc and Spring Bank Plc respectively before the Federal High Court in Lagos.

This is the third time in three years.

They were arraigned before the court presided over by Justice Ofili Ajumogobia on a 45 count charge relating to mismanagement and misappropriation of shareholder’s funds through reckless grants of credit facilities without adequate security.

The two former bank chiefs however pleaded not guilty to all the counts.

The court then ordered that they should continue to enjoy the bail granted to them by the former court hearing the case, until January 15, 2013 when their new bail application is determined by the court.

The defendants were first docked before Justice Akinjide Ajakaiye by the anti-graft agency on October 28 on a 26-count charge of alleged granting a total of N78.384 billion non-secured credit facilities.

Mr Atuche is also currently facing three separate charges of alleged theft of Bank PHB funds running into several billions of Naira before two judges of the Lagos High Court siting in Ikeja.

At Wednesday’s proceedings, effort by the two defence counsel, Shamsuddeen Usman and Olumide Adefila to stop the arraignment was rejected by the court.

Usman had urged the court to stay further proceeding in the matter as his client is currently before the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal challenging the decision of Justice Ajakaiye (who is now retired) not to dismiss the charge against Atuche.

According to the lawyer, since the appeal has been entered and parties have joined issues, the trial court should not take any step that would render the decision of the upper court useless.

However, Justice Ajumogobia held that she cannot assume jurisdiction on the matter until the accused persons take their plea.

According to her “it is going to be an abomination for an accused not to be arraigned before a court and the court proceed to hear his application, it is only when an accused person is arraigned before a court that the court can then become a trial court”.

The judge therefore ordered that the charge be read to the two accused person.

The former bank MD who was also the former Chief Executive officer (CEO) of Bank PHB Plc was further alleged to have granted credit facilities in the total sum of N21.5 billion to the six companies which sum was above his approval limit as laid down by the regulations of Bank PHB Plc.

He was accused to have without prior approval of the CBN acquired share capital of Project Alpha United Kingdom, PHB Capital Trust Limited and Insurance PHB Limited in the total sum of N1. 380 billion thereby committing an offence contrary to Section 21(2) of BOFIA Cap B3, laws of Nigeria 2004.

 

EFCC accuses Atuche of embezzling N45 million to pay church tithes

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has accused a former managing director of  the defunct Bank PHB (now Keystone bank), Francis Atuche of using depositors’ funds to pay N45 million in church tithes.

Lead prosecution counsel, Kemi Pinheiro, on Wednesday made the accusation at the Lagos High Court, sitting in Ikeja, while leading in evidence a key witness, Solomon Abolaji Ogunsola, a former staff of PHB Mortgages Limited.

Mr Atuche allegedly paid the money from an account of PHB Mortgage Limited.

Mr Pinheiro presented documents in court, some of them e-mails sent as an order to release the sum of N35 million to St. Monica Catholic church, Ibusa, Delta State, and another sum of N10million to another St. Augustine Catholic Church.

Mr Ogunsola told the court that Mr Atuche sent the money to the two churches in Delta State because he hails from the state.

He also admitted knowing two companies: Claremount Nigeria Limited and Claremount Asset Management. He said that Claremount Nigeria Limited had a call account with his bank and the account was owned by Mr Atuche.

He explained that the only document on the call account’s file was a reference letter which bears Mr Atuche’s name. The document was admitted as exhibit.

In addition, various transactions carried out by Mr Atuche in his statements of account with Claremount Nigeria Limited and Claremount Asset Management Limited were read. Mr Atuche had denied having anything to do with the two companies.

Justice Lateefa Okunnu admitted the accounts as exhibits.

The EFCC counsel also led in evidence, one Andy Uzomor, another staff of PHB Mortgage Limited, who presented a 39-page document before the court as exhibit.

The presentation of the document was opposed by lead defence counsel, Anthony Idigbe, who claimed that some of the documents had to do with a N20million transaction between his law chambers and Mr Atuche.

Mr Idigbe urged the court not to admit the particular section as it will deny Mr Atuche a right to a counsel of his choice. According to him, if the document was admitted either himself or his client will have to go into the witness box, which might force his chamber out of the case.

But the EFCC lawyer insisted that Mr Idigbe’s objections lacked substance in law.

According to him, some of the documents pertained to an account that Mr Atuche had disowned. Besides, he referred to Section 38, sub-section 1 of the EFCC Establishment Act which grants the EFCC power to seek and receive information from anybody.

After listening to all their submissions, Justice Okunnu admitted the documents as exhibits and adjourned the case till 4 October 2012 for futher hearing.

 

 

Court admits more exhibits on Atuche vs EFCC case

A Lagos High Court sitting in Ikeja has admitted as exhibits some documents from the investigations conducted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in the trial of the former Managing Director of Bank PHB (now Keystone Bank), Mr Francis Atuche, his wife, Elizabeth and a former Director of the bank, Ugo Anyanwu over financial impropriety.

The number of exhibits so far admitted now stands at 200.

The documents admitted includes a letter from Bank PHB dated 28th October, 2009 stating that they have no records for the opening of  accounts for certain companies, an internal memo of Bank PHB dated February 15, 2007 titled, approval limit for credit availment and a certified true copy of a letter of incorporation of a company, Petrosam Oil and gas.

At the resumed hearing of the matter before Justice Lateefa Okunnu, the prosecution, led by Kemi Pinheiro (SAN), continued with the evidence of his witness, one Davis Olom Nkpe, an operative of the EFCC, who works in the bank’s fraud investigative department.

The witness, who gave a detailed breakdown of the shares bought by some companies with credit allegedly made available by Bank PHB under Mr Atuche’s tenure at the bank, added that he did come across documents relating to the bank’s deferral policy on credit availment during investigations.

He explained that there are certain conditions attached to the deferral policy for credit availment as a duly completed credit availment form must be submitted before a customer can enjoy the policy.

He however noted that some companies like Extra oil, Petrosam Oil and gas, Trajec limited and Futureview Financial Services benefitted from the banks loans without having accounts with the bank and with no duly filled deferral forms.

Some new companies that were also alleged to have benefitted from Bank PHB shares with the bank’s fund were also mentioned to include Arabian Probity Management Limited, Clearmont management Company Limited, Commercial Trading and Services Limited, Pine Petrosam Limited, Consolidated Business Support Limited, Financial Company Limited, Noelle Investments Limited, APCO and Venture Resources Limited.

In his testimony, Mr Nkpe further stated that all the transactions were carried out by a Bank PHB staff, Obi Nwapa on the instructions of Mr Ugo Anyanwu, who was the Chief Financial Officer at the bank then.

When confronted during investigations however, Mr Anyanwu stated that he was acting on instructions from his boss, Mr Atuche.

The anti-graft operative told the court that no documents were tendered to however support the claim that he was acting on Mr Atuche’s instructions as the beneficial owner of the alleged shares.

The case continues on Wednesday with the cross examination of the witness.

Atuche used 18 companies to steal Bank PHP fund – EFCC

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on Monday accused the former Managing Director of Bank PHB, Francis Atuche, of buying the bank’s shares for 18 companies belonging to him and his wife, Elizabeth Atuche.

The EFCC had charged Mr Atuche, his wife, Elizabeth and a former Chief Financial Officer of the bank, Ugo Anyanwu to court for allegedly stealing over N25.7 billion belonging to Bank PHB (now KeyStone Bank) between November 2007 and April 2008

David Nkpe, a field investigator with the EFCC who made the allegation, before a Lagos High Court sitting in ikeja, also said that the shares, worth billions of naira, were fraudulently purchased using funds belonging to Bank PHB.

The EFCC had charged Mr Atuche, his wife, Elizabeth and a former Chief Financial Officer of the bank, Ugo Anyanwu to court for allegedly stealing over N25.7 billion belonging to Bank PHB (now KeyStone Bank) between November 2007 and April 2008, while Mr Atuche was the Chief Executive Officer of the bank.

Mr Nkpe who was led in evidence by the EFCC prosecutor, Kemi Pinheiro, said that the 18 companies belonging to the former bank chief executive officer purchased the shares during a public offer by Bank PHB in May 2007.

The companies are Claremount Investment Limited, Montrax Investico, Stanford Global Limited, Arabian Probity, Consolidated Business Support Limited, Commercial Trading Limited and Filemon Enterprise.

It also includes Oakwood Asset Limited, Ventures Resources, Caledonia Enterprise, Financial Company Limited, Claremount Asset Management Limited, Clairville Business Support.

Others are Gazali Yakubu Limited, Afco Associate Limited, Septron Trading Limited, Guess-Trade Services Limited and Nolly Investment Limited.

The EFCC witness said a thorough investigation and confirmation from the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) revealed that these companies were mainly owned by the Atuches.

According to him, these companies never repaid the money back to Bank PHB despite the fact that the transactions placed them on the top 1,000 list of the bank’s shareholders.

The Presiding Justice Lateefah Okunnu adjourned till Wednesday, 28 March for continuation of trial.

Court insists Atuche has a case of fraud to answer

An Ikeja High Court sitting on Monday dismissed an application filed by the former Managing Director of Bank PHB (now Keystone bank), Francis Atuche seeking an order to quash the charges of stealing brought against him and a former Director of the bank, Lekan Kasali by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

Presiding Justice Adeniyi Onigbanjo said that the application lacks merit and that the charge against the former bank chief is not defective and incompetent.

Mr Atuche had sought an order striking out his name from the charge on the basis that the transactions on another charge against him before the Federal High Court and the one at the Lagos High Court were interlinked.

He added that the EFCC, acting for the Attorney-General of the Federation, can only prosecute a crime under a Federal Law, and not under the Administration of the Criminal Justice Law of Lagos State.

Justice Onigbanjo in his ruling dismissed all the arguments raised by Mr Atuche.

The judge distinguished between the cases at the Federal high court & that at the State High Court. He said the charges at the Federal High Court bordered on his alleged granting of credit facilities illegally while that before his court had to do with stealing and conspiracy to steal.

The court also maintained that the two matters before it and the one before Justice Lateefah Okunnu of the same court had to do with different transactions that Mr Atuche was allegedly involved in, though all the alleged offences were committed when he was the Chief Executive Officer of the defunct Bank PHB.

The judge also overruled Mr Atuche’s argument that the way the case was being handled could prejudice his right to fair hearing.

The judge said that though the case had generated public interest, it would not in anyway affect the decision of the court.

Justice Onigbanjo rejected the former bank chief’s argument that the proof of evidence did not disclose a prima facie evidence against him before adjourning till the 24th of May for commencement of trial.