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Court of Appeal affirms conviction of Ex-Bank PHB MD, Atuche

The Court of Appeal, Lagos on Thursday affirmed the conviction of a former Managing Director of the defunct Bank PHB Plc, Francis Atuche, over N25.7biillion fraud.

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

The three-man panel of the court comprising Justices Sadiq Umar, Adebukola Banjoko and Kayode Bada, upheld in part, the June 16, 2021 judgment of Justice Lateefa Okunnu of the Lagos State High Court, Ikeja.
The justices resolved all the issues in the appeal in favour of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), except for the issue of sentencing.

The appellate court clarified that Atuche’s jail term, as handed down by the lower court, is 12 years concurrently, rather than 120 years if calculated consecutively.

The Justices, however, reduced Anyanwu’s sentence from 10 years to eight years. They also affirmed the discharge and acquittal of Atuche’s wife, Elizabeth.

Francis Atuche

Following the June 16, 2021 sentence, the appellants challenged their conviction and prayed the appellate court to set aside the lower court’s decision.
But in an abridged ruling read by Justice Umar, the three-man panel upheld the EFCC’s arguments and unanimously dismissed the appeal.

Last year, Justice Okunni had while sentencing the duo, upheld the arguments of Dr Kemi Pinheiro (SAN), who prosecuted the case on behalf of the EFCC with the fiat of the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN).The EFCC in 2011 arraigned the defendants before Justice Okunnu over the 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 off the trial but did not quash the charges against the defendants. The EFCC then approached the Supreme Court to set aside the decision of the appellate court and order trial in the matter.

After listening to the EFCC’s counsel, the apex court directed that the case be returned to Justice Okunnu for continuation of trial. Atuche and his wife returned to Justice Okunnu with Pinheiro opposing Atuche’s contention that the funds in dispute were loaned, not stolen.
But the judge 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 loan could be used for whatever purposes,” Okunnu stated.

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

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