Justice Lateefa Okunnu of the Lagos State High Court, Ikeja, has sentenced a former Managing Director of defunct Bank PHB Plc, Francis Atuche, to 12 years’ imprisonment for N25.7bn fraud in the bank.
The bank’s former Chief Financial Officer, Ugo Anyanwu, was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment for stealing and conspiracy to steal, while Atuche’s wife, Elizabeth, was discharged and acquitted.
In sentencing the pair, the judge upheld the arguments of Kemi Pinheiro (SAN), who prosecuted the case on behalf of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission with the fiat of the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN).
Recall that the EFCC had in 2011 arraigned the defendants before Justice Okunnu over the N25.7bn fraud.
However, Atuche and the co-defendants approached the Lagos State 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 Lagos State Court of Appeal 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.
Okunnu further stated, “The first defendant confirmed the bank’s ownership of the money when he said the bank in lending money makes profit.
“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.”
Okunnu mentioned that since the alter egos and true directing mind of the companies knew nothing about the loans, the loans indeed were a hoax.
“Counts 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10 have been established. 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.