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N20BN THEFT: EFCC DOCKS ATUCHE, WIFE

By NBF News
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After several weeks of cat and mouse game, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) finally arraigned the ex-managing director of Bank PHB Plc, Francis Atuche, his wife, Elizabeth and two others before a Lagos High Court sitting in Ikeja, yesterday.

Atuche and his associates, Funmi Ademosun and Lekan Kasali were arraigned on a three-count charge of conspiracy and stealing before Justice S.A. Onigbanjo.

His wife was arraigned before Justice Lateefat Okunnu on a separate three-count charge of conspiracy and stealing.

According to the prosecution, Atuche and his two associates allegedly conspired to steal over N11.4 billion between November 2007 and September 2008 from the coffers of the bank during his tenure as the helmsman of the financial institution.

In the charge preferred against the defendants, the prosecution specifically alleged that the defendants fraudulently sold 241, 579, 284 units of Afribank shares, a joint property of Caverton Helicopters Ltd and Bank PHB Plc and converted the proceeds for their personal use.

In addition, the defendants were also alleged to have fraudulently converted some of the stolen money into loans to Congipar Nig. Ltd for their personal use.

The prosecution contended that the alleged offences contravened Sections 516 and 383 of the Criminal Code Law, CAP C17, Laws of Lagos State, 2003. However, the defendants pleaded not guilty to all the charges when read to them by the court registrar.

Following the taking of the defendants' plea, lead defence counsel, Chief Anthony Idigbe (SAN) prayed the court to allow his client be remanded in EFCC custody pending the hearing of the bail application filed on his behalf.

EFCC counsel, Kemi Pinheiro (SAN), however, objected to the request and asked the court to remand the accused persons in prison custody.

Pinheiro argued that the EFCC had no constitutional duty to hold persons awaiting trial, adding that it was in the best interest of the accused persons to be taken off the hands of an unwilling custodian.

The trial judge in his ruling ordered the defendants to be remanded in EFCC custody and adjourned the matter till May 19, 2011 for hearing of their bail applications.

In a separate proceeding, Mrs. Atuche was arraigned over alleged role in the theft of N8.5 billion belonging to the bank between November, 2007 and April, 2008.

The EFCC alleged that she fraudulently converted the proceeds of several loans for the acquisition of 337,500,000 and 168,750,000 units of Bank PHB shares on behalf of Ghazali Yakubu Investment Limited and AFCO Associates Limited.

The alleged offences contravene Sections 519 and 383 of the Criminal Code Law, CAP C17, Laws of Lagos State 2003.

She pleaded not guilty to all the charges after it was read to her.

Her counsel, Idigbe urged the court to remand her in EFCC custody pending the hearing of her bail application which will be heard on May 19.

EFCC counsel, Pinhiero however objected to the request and urged the court to remand her in prison custody. The trial judge, Justice Okunnu in a short ruling ordered her to be remanded in prison custody and fixed July 5, 6 and 12 as trial dates for the case.