N25.7bn Fraud: Why Court Freed Former Bank PHB Boss, Atuche, Others

imageThe former Managing Director of Bank PHB, Francis Atuche, who faced allegations of stealing N25.7 billion, was freed Monday after a judge ruled that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission failed to prove that capital market-based matters fall under the jurisdiction of state high courts.
Justice Lateef Lawal-Akapo held that the prosecution, the EFCC, did not produce any argument as to how 17 of the 27 count charge are connected to shares and stocks.
The judge noted that the other 10 counts were charges relating to stealing and, as such, fall under the jurisdiction of state high courts.
“Count one to ten is within the ambit of the Criminal Laws of Lagos State because it deals with stealing,” said Mr. Lawal-Akapo of a Lagos High Court sitting in Ikeja.
“Counsel to the Commission did not make any submission as to whether count 11 to 27 have any nexus with shares and stocks. The criminal charge is hereby struck out and the accused persons are hereby discharged.”
The EFCC had accused Mr. Atuche; Elizabeth, his wife; and Ugo Anyanwu, the Chief Financial Officer of the now defunct Bank PHB of stealing N25.7 billion from the bank.
The bank is now known as Keystone bank.
The defendants had appeared before Justice Lateefat Okunnu before the matter was transferred to Mr. Lawal-Akapo following a decision of the Court of Appeal.
Mr. Atuche had filed an application urging Justice Lawal-Akapo to quash the charges against him, following a favourable ruling by the Court of Appeal in a similar case concerning a former boss of the defunct Finbank.
In November, 2014, an appellate court struck out charges of stealing instituted by the EFCC against Okey Nwosu, the former Managing Director of Finbank Plc, and others.
According to the court, capital market-based matters are exclusive jurisdiction of the Federal High Court.
Also, in December, 2014, the Court of Appeal also struck similar charges against Erastus Akingbola, former Managing Director of Intercontinental Bank Plc, on the same grounds.
Tayo Oyetibo, Mr. Atuche’s counsel, had argued that his client deserved a similar treatment, based on the appellate court’s decisions.
While delivering his ruling on Monday, Justice Lawal-Akapo agreed that he was duty bound to comply with the decisions of the court of Appeal on Messrs Nwosu and Akingbola.
“The emphasis in this case should not be based on speculation but should be based on accelerated hearing in compliance with the ruling of the Court of Appeal, Lagos Division,” the judge said.
“Suppose this court rules sine die, the decision will be antagonistic to the decision of the Court of Appeal. I find no merit in the application and the application is hereby dismissed.
In April, the EFCC filed an application seeking an indefinite adjournment of the trial on the grounds that they were challenging the Court of Appeal’s November, 2014, decision at the Supreme Court.
But the judge said that matters before the Supreme Court could take years before completion, noting that the lower court had waited for over one year for the apex court to deliver its ruling on the Mr. Nwosu case.


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