The protracted trial of the former Managing Director of the defunct BankPHB, Mr Francis Atuche over N25.7 billion ended on Wednesday as an Ikeja High Court sentenced him to a total of 126 years imprisonment.
Also sentenced with Atuche is his co-defendant, Ugo Anyanwu who was the Chief Financial Officer of the bank. He bagged 84 years. Atuche’s wife, Elizabeth however escaped the hammer as the court discharged and acquitted her.
The trial started in 2011 went through the gamut of the Court of Appeal, and the Supreme Court before coming back to the trial court, which culminated in the judgment delivered on Wednesday. Gavel International investigations revealed that both the prosecution and defence counsels in the case filed over 200 page written addresses while the judgment took the trial judge more than 12 hours.
The trial judge, Justice Lateefat Okunnu convicted the defendants of 21 out of 27 charges against them. Atuche and Anyanwu were sentenced to six and four years respectively on each of the 21 charges on which they were convicted by the court. They would however spend six and four years respectively in Correctional centers as the sentences would run concurrently.
Justice Okunnu however said the convicts must make restitution as contained in count 4 noting that the amount stolen was not up to the amount alleged in the charge.
In acquitting Mrs Atuche, the trial judge held that the EFCC failed to link her to the crime adding that suspicion no matter how strong can not take the place of fact.
She held that it was not proven that Mrs Atuche was aware of the source of the fund she received into her account from her husband and she had no powers to take any decision to influence the transaction.
The judge upheld the arguments of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) Kemi Pinheiro, who prosecuted the case with the fiat of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF). Pinheiro had opposed Atuche’s contention that the stolen funds in dispute were loaned, not stolen.
The judge agreed with the prosecution and held that the money belonged to the bank and that it was capable of being stolen.
“The 1st Defendant confirmed the bank’s ownership of the money when he said the bank in lending money makes profit
The judge also held that the offences with which the convicts were charged can not be said to be mere professional negligence as claimed by them but criminal in nature.
The court specifically held that Atuche and Anyanwu abused their powers, ignored established rules and regulations thereby putting the bank and depositors funds in danger.
The court also stated that the convicts corruptly took advantage of their positions to confer on themselves undue financial benefits without regard to the health of the bank.
“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
“The alter egos and true directing mind of the companies knew nothing about the loans. The loans indeed were a hoax.
Justice Okunnu convicted Atuche and Anyanwu on counts 1 to 11, 14-20, 23, 24 and 27.
“The 1st and 3rd 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 loan could be used for whatever purposes.”
In a judgement that lasted over 11 hours, Justice Okunnu held that the EFCC successfully proved its case against the convicts beyond reasonable doubt.
The EFCC alleged that between November 2007 and April 2008, the convicts stole about N25.7bn belonging to the bank.
The anti-graft agency has claimed that out of the total N25.7bn allegedly stolen by the accused persons, EFCC claimed that they stole about N14.7bn by fraudulently describing it as a loan to some companies and subsequently converted the said sum to personal use.
The Commission had further told the court that the companies included Future View Securities, Extra Oil Limited, Resolution Trust and Investment Limited and Tradjek Nigeria Ltd.
The EFCC also alleged that about N11bn was stolen by the defendants and the said sum was used to purchase about 984,375,000 units of Bank PHB shares for themselves.
The said sum used for purchasing the shares, EFCC alleged, was described as loan to some companies including, Guesstrade Services, Sentron Trading, Montrax Investico, Claremont Management Ltd., Trenton Trade and others.
The Anti- graft agency had closed its case against the defendants on March 4, 2013, after calling 12 witnesses, who gave oral evidence and issuing subpoenas to six other persons to present some documents which were admitted as exhibits by the court.