Business

Ex-Bank PHB boss, Francis Atuche sentenced to six years imprisonment over N25.7 billion fraud

An Ikeja High Court on Wednesday sentenced a former Managing Director of the defunct Bank PHB (now Keystone Bank) Francis Atuche to six years imprisonment for N25.7 billion fraud.

His co-defendant, Ugo Anyanwu, was also sentenced to four years imprisonment.

The duo was convicted in 21 of 27-count charges against them.

Atuche and Anyanwu were sentenced to six and four years on each of the 21 charges. The sentences will run concurrently.

Justice Lateefat Okunnu said the convicts must make restitution as contained in Count 4, noting that the amount stolen was not up to what was alleged in the charge.

The judge discharged and acquitted Atuche’s wife of charges of conspiracy and stealing.

She held that the EFCC failed to link her to the crime, adding that suspicion no matter how strong can not take the place of fact.

In convicting the duo of Atuche and Anyanwu, the judge upheld the arguments of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) Kemi Pinheiro, who prosecuted the case with the fiat of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF).

Pinheiro had opposed Atuche’s contention that the stolen funds in dispute were loaned, not stolen.

The judge agreed with the prosecution and held that the money belonged to the bank and that it was capable of being stolen.

Justice Okunnu convicted Atuche and Anyanwu on counts 1 to 11, 14-20, 23, 24 and 27.

“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,” she said.

In a judgement that lasted over 11 hours, Justice Okunnu held that the EFCC successful proved its case against the convicts beyond a reasonable doubt.

The judge also held that the offences for which the convicts were charged can not be said to be mere professional negligence but criminal.

The court held that Atuche and Anyanwu abused their powers and ignored established rules and regulations, thereby putting the bank and depositors’ funds in danger.

The court held that the convicts corruptly took advantage of their positions to confer on themselves undue financial benefits without regard to the health of the bank.

The EFCC alleged that between November 2007 and April 2008, the convicts stole about N25.7bn belonging to the bank.

The defendants had pleaded not guilty.

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