Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal on yesterday dismissed an appeal filed by a former Managing Director of the defunct Bank PHB Plc, Francis Atuche, seeking to overturn his six-year jail term for stealing N25.7 billion belonging to the bank.
The appellate court also affirmed the four years imprisonment handed down to Atuche’s accomplice and co-convict, Ugo Anyanwu, who was the bank’s former Chief Financial Officer, by Justice Lateefa Okunnu of the Lagos State High Court in Ikeja.
The three-man panel of the court, however, upheld the acquittal of Atuche’s wife, Elizabeth on the charge of conspiracy and stealing brought against her by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
While Atuche was jailed by the court on 21 of the 27-count amended charge of conspiracy to commit a felony and stealing for six years, Anyanwu was imprisoned for four years for the same offence by Justice Lateefa Okunnu on June 16, 2021.
Justice Okunnu, while sentencing the duo also ordered that the convicts should make restitution of the N25.7b to the federal government to replace the funds taken from the public purse to bail out the bank.
Delivering judgment yesterday, the three-man panel of the Court of Appeal made up of Justices Sadiq Umar, Adebukola Banjoko and Kayode Bada resolved all the issues in the appeal in favour of the EFCC except for the issue of sentencing.
The appellate court clarified that Atuche’s jail term, as handed down by the lower court, is six years concurrently, rather than 12 years as argued by the EFCC.
The Justices, however, reduced Anyanwu’s cumulative sentence from eight years to 10 years.
The EFCC alleged that between November 2007 and April 2008, the accused persons stole about N25.7bn belonging to the bank.
The anti-graft agency has claimed that out of the total N25.7bn allegedly stolen by the accused persons, EFCC claimed that they stole about N14.7bn by fraudulently describing it as a loan to some companies and subsequently converted the said sum to personal use.
The commission had further told the court that the companies included Future View Securities, Extra Oil Limited, Resolution Trust and Investment Limited and Tradjek Nigeria Ltd.
The EFCC had told the lower court that about N11 billion was stolen by the convict and that they used the money to purchase about 984,375,000 units of Bank PHB shares for themselves.
The said sum used for purchasing the shares, EFCC alleged, was described as a loan to some companies including, Guesstrade Services, Sentron Trading, Montrax Investico, Claremont Management Ltd., Trenton Trade and others.
The anti-graft agency closed its case against the defendants on March 4, 2013, after calling 12 witnesses, who gave oral evidence and issued subpoenas to six other persons to present some documents which were admitted as exhibits by the court.
Justice Okunnu, in her judgment, agreed with the EFCC and held that since the money belonged to the bank, it was capable of being stolen.
“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 the loan could be used for whatever purposes.
“The convict stole from the bank and depositors and because of their action, taxpayers’ money was used to bail out the bank,” Okunnu stated.
She also ruled that the defendant should restitute the amount stolen from the bank. They are to pay back the sum of N25.7 billion to the Federal government to replace the fund taken from the public cover to bail out the bank.
The court, however, cleared Atuche’s wife of the charge of conspiracy and stealing.
According to the judge, the EFCC failed to link her to the crime, stating that suspicion no matter how strong cannot take the place of fact.
She held that it was not proven that she was aware of the source of the fund she received into her account from her husband and she had no powers to take any decision to influence the transaction.