Sealed Properties: Atuche’s Application suffers Set Back
Attempt by former Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of BankPHB, Mr. Francis Atuche to have his attached properties and frozen bank accounts returned to him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC was on Tuesday July 6 rejected by a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos.
Atuche who is standing trial on charges of money laundering had approached the Court with an application to vacate the order attaching his properties and defreeze his bank accounts that were placed on restraining seals by the Commission since Tuesday March 9.
Counsel to Atuche, Tony Idigbe, Adeniyi Akintola and Ricky Tarfa, all Senior Advocates of Nigeria, told the court that the placing of restraining seals on Atuche's properties and freezing of his bank account was unconstitutional and therefore constitute an infringement on his fundamental human right. They also argued that the freezing of his bank account would make it impossible for him to meet his obligations such as paying their legal fee, his children's school fees and maintaining his family.
Justice A. O. Ajakaiye in his ruling partially dismissed the application but approved the release of two of the former bank chief's properties on Falomo Close, Ikoyi and Asokoro, Abuja which are personal residences of the Atuches. Justice Ajakaiye said court acceded to the request to release those two properties as Atuche is not expected to live on the street with his family. He therefore ordered that the restraining seal be removed. He also ordered that Atuche could have partial access to his Bank PHB Account where he could withdraw N20 million for his legal fees, N1 million for his children's school fees, N200,000 for his family medical care and N1 million for the upkeep of his family. However, the court ruled that the restraining order should subsist and his bank accounts frozen as it does not in anyway infringe on his fundamental human right.
Some of his other properties which are placed “Under Investigation and Restrained” include those on No 11 Raymond Njoku Street, Ikoyi, N21 Alfred Rewane Road, Ikoyi, 4 Saka Tinubu, Victoria Island and No 14B Anifowoshe Street, Victoria Island. Others are at Road 43, G169 Victoria Garden City, Lekki; No 57 Ilesanmi Street, Surulere and Asoba Private Estate, Surulere.
Meanwhile, proceedings in the case of money laundering brought against Atuche and Charles Ojo by the EFCC is now on hold as Justice Ajaikaye agreed to stay proceedings after it was established that the matter has been entered by the Court of Appeal. At the last sitting, Idigbe told the court that he had filed an application dated June 3 for further stay of proceedings pending the determination of the case for stay of proceeding at the Court of Appeal. “We are not ashamed to pursue his right at Court of Appeal just as the prosecution is not ashamed to prosecute. The court should strike a balance.”
However, counsel to EFCC, Kemi Pheniro, SAN opposed the application. He said the court could hear the matter based on Section 40 of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission Establishment Act. Justice Ajakaiye who refused to adjourn the matter sine die however, adjourned the case to October 19, 2010 for further hearing.