Almost literally, Justice Lateefa Okunnu of the Lagos State High Court, Ikeja, raised the red flag against gaft on Wednesday as she slammed a 12 year jail sentence on a former Managing Director of defunct Bank PHB Plc, Francis Atuche, over the N25.7bn he allegedly acquired fraudulently while heading the bank. The bank’s former Chief Financial Officer, Ugo Anyanwu, got hard knocks too, though a little less than his boss as he lapped up a 10-year residency at one of the country’s correctional centres for alleged stealing and conspiracy to steal.
But Atuche’s wife, Elizabeth, was pretty lucky. There was no sufficient evidence to nail her as she got discharged and acquitted.
In passing the sentence on Atuche and his co traveler, Anyanwu, Justice Okunnu agreed with prosecutor’s arguments as presented by Kemi Pinheiro, SAN, representing one of the country’s anti graft agencies, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
The anti graft agency first arraigned the defendants in 2011 before Justice Okunnu over the N25.7bn Fraud. But just before proceedings gathered momentum, the defendant approached the Lagos State Appeal Court to challenge their trial by the lower court for lack of jurisdiction. The court ruled in their favour in 2016 and ordered Justice Okunnu to hands off the trial. However, it did not quash the charges against the defendants.
Obviously not satisfied with the ruling, the EFCC approached the Supreme Court, praying it to set aside the decision of the appellate court and order a trial on the matter. The apex court concurred with the arguments proferred by the anti graft body and directed that the case be returned to Justice Okunnu for continuation of trial.
With the defendants back before Justice Okunnu, prosecution went full blast and contended against their arguments that the funds contested were loaned, rather than proceeds of fraud. Sadly for them however, the judged concurred with prosecution’s arguments and avered that since the money belonged to the bank, it was capable of being stolen.
“I am persuaded by the statement of Pat Utomi that ‘the bank still has control over money that’s left in its coffers, no matter who uses it.
Helen Eriyo, who is the account officer of Petosan, being unaware of the loans granted, lends credit to the testimony of Mr Ololo that he was not aware of the loan.”
Justice Okunnu thus found Atuche and Anyanwu guilty, while Atuche’s wife was acquitted.
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