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N27b fraud: Atuche loans ratified by bank board, says Utomi

By The Rainbow

RENOWNED economic scholar and former vice chairman of the defunct Bank PHB's Board of Directors, Prof. Pat Utomi, said on Monday that loans granted by bank during Francis Atuche's era were ratified by the board.

Utomi, in his evidence-in-chief, led by Atuche's counsel, Chief Anthony Idigbe (SAN), told an Ikeja High Court, Lagos presided by Justice Lateefat Okunnu,  at the ongoing trial of Atuche, his wife, Elizabeth, and the bank's former chief operating officer, Ugo Anyanwu, that the ratification of the loans formed part of the minutes of bank's board's resolution of July 2008.

Atuche, his wife and Anyanwu are being prosecuted for stealing over N27.5 billion belonging to the bank. According to the charge preferred against them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the defendants allegedly stole the money through 'hoax and non-existing loans,' which they allegedly converted to their use.

However, Utomi, a former chairman of the bank's Corporate Governance Committee, said in his testimony that the loans, which formed part of the charges, were ratified by the board after proper scrutiny. Reading from the minutes of the Board of Directors' meeting of July 9, 2008, Utomi said the loans were ratified during the meeting.

According to him, the board even resolved to treat every loan according to its merit without making a blanket decision on the credit facilities. The process, he said, led to the ratification of the loans at the said meeting.

He listed the loans ratified on their merit to include the disputed loans for which the defendants are being tried: The N3.9 billion loan to Extra Oil, N3.5 billion to Trajet Nigeria Limited, N3.5 billion to Futureview Services Limited, N4 billion to Petrosan Oil and Gas and N8 billion to Falcon Services.

He also told the court that integrity was the high point of the process and that the board did not notice any fraudulent practice or illegality from any of the committees during the process. According to him, neither Atuche nor Anyanwu violated the bank's Corporate Governance ethics in granting the loans, as the bank would not have ratified the loans at its 38th Board of Directors' meeting.

Utomi also confirmed on cross-examination by the prosecution, led by Kemi Pinheiro (SAN), that there was no date in the minutes of the board resolution indicating the time of disbursement.

Earlier, the prosecution objected to moves by the defence to have the minutes of the board admitted as an exhibit from Utomi on the ground that the witness was not the maker of the document and that the court has rejected several attempts to smuggle in the document.

The prosecution rather told the court that the defence should have waited to get the original from the bank, which was subpoenaed by the defence. After much argument, the court said the document could not be admitted at that stage through the witness.

The judge, however, admitted the minutes of the board resolution as exhibit D2 before Utomi could give evidence on it. Further cross-examination of Utomi's evidence continues today.