Atuche, Wife, Others Arraigned, Remanded in EFCC and Prison Custody
SAN FRANCISCO, May 17, (THEWILL) - The former managing director of Bank PHB, Mr. Francis Atuche, his wife Elizabeth and two of their associates were arraigned before different courts Tuesday by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and charged with offences bordering on stealing depositors funds.
While Atuche and Messrs Lekan Kasali and Femi Ademosun appeared before Justice S.A Onigbanjo of Ikeja High Court, Mrs. Atuche was arraigned before Justice Lateefa Okunnu also of Ikeja High Court. While Justice Onigbanjo ordered that Atuche and his accomplices be remanded in the custody of the EFCC, Okunnu ordered that his wife be remanded in prison custody.
Atuche was arraigned twice in the same court on different charges bordering on stealing. In the first case, he was arraigned alongside Kasali on a three count-charge bordering on conspiracy to commit felony and stealing. According to one of the charges, in August 2008 the defendants conspired and stole the sum of N3.6billion which they fraudulently claimed to be a loan to Cogpar Nigeria Limited. A total of N10.8billion was allegedly transferred to the company by the accused persons.
Afterwards, Atuche was again docked along with Femi Ademosun on another charge of conspiracy and stealing to the tune of N12.6billion.
When the charges were read to the accused persons, other defendants pleaded not guilty but Atuche refused to make a plea. When asked to take his plea, he declared: “I object to the charge.” EFCC lead counsel, Mr. Kemi Phinhero complained about the accused refusal to plead guilty or not guilty but the trial Judge informed the court that even though the defendant said he objected to the charge, he has entered the plea of not guilty for him.
The matter of where the accused persons would be kept pending the next adjourned date drew fireworks from counsel to both parties. While lead defence counsel, Anthony Idigbe, SAN wanted his client remanded in EFCC custody, the request was vehemently opposed by Kemi Phinhero, SAN, lead prosecution counsel, who pointed out that Atuche had been sponsoring damaging publications against the EFCC. But the defence counsel was persistent.
“My lord, we have absolute confidence that the EFCC would take care of the defendants and we have full confidence in the system,’ he pleaded. Phinhero countered,“ My lord, it is unfair to impose the defendants on unwilling custodians, the EFCC cell is not meant for awaiting trial persons, it is the prison custody that is meant for awaiting trial persons, the only alternative is asylum.” The Judge however ruled in favour of the defendants that they must be remanded in the EFCC custody till May 19 when the application for bail and preliminary objection would be heard.
Mrs. Atuche was not that lucky, all her lawyers’ effort to persuade Justice Okunnu to remand her in the EFCC custody failed. She had pleaded not guilty to the three count charge preferred against her by the EFCC, where she was alleged to have conspired with her husband to steal the sum of N5.737billion between November 2007 and April 2008, property of Bank PHB. The funds were fraudulently converted proceeds of several illegal loans which were deployed in the acquisition of 337,500.00 units of Bank PHB shares on behalf of Gazali Yakubu investment Ltd and EFCD Associates Ltd. She was also accused of stealing the sum of N2.89billion each in two different transactions. The trial Judge adjourned the case to May 19 when the bail application would be heard. The trial will take place on July 5, 6 and 12.
In a related development, the trial of the former managing director of Finbank Plc, Mr. Okey Nwosu and three former executive directors of the bank has been adjourned to May 20 when all the pending applications, including application for bail would be heard.