Ikeja High Court has sentenced ex-Bank PHB boss, Francis Atuche to six-year imprisonment.
Justice Lateefa Okunnu in a sitting that lasted over 11 hours on Wednesday, also convicted a former Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of the bank, Ugo Anyanwu.
Atuche, his wife – Elizabeth, and Anyanwu were also arraigned for stealing and conspiring to steal N25.7 billion belonging to Bank PHB.
The Judge read her judgement: “The first defendant (Atuche) and the third defendant (Anyanwu) are found guilty of counts one to 11, 14 to 20, 23 and 24 of the charges contained in the information, and are convicted of conspiracy and stealing.
“On counts 12, 13, 21, 22, and 26, I pronounce the first to third defendants not guilty as the prosecution failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
“On counts 25 and 27, the second defendant (Elizabeth) is found not guilty.
“By stealing from the bank, they stole from innocent customers of the bank. I hereby make an order of restitution against the first and third defendants to refund the sums stated in counts one to 11, 14, and 24.
“The sums are to be paid to the relevant agencies that recovered the funds on behalf of the bank.
“The first defendant is hereby sentenced to six years imprisonment on counts one to 11, 14 to 20, 23, and 24. The third defendant is hereby sentenced to four years imprisonment on counts one to 11, 14 to 20, 23, and 24.”
Okunnu upheld the arguments of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) prosecutor, Kemi Pinheiro (SAN), that both convicts defrauded the bank using well-recognised stockbrokers to transfer the N25.7 billion under the guise of loans and shares.
She said: “It was a well-planned, well-executed scheme but the bubble burst when the Central Bank of Nigeria intervened” Daily Dates Nigeria reports.
“The first defendant (Atuche) was diversionary and evasive on the witness stand; sometimes confrontational and rude. The third defendant (Anyanwu) was also combative and rude under cross-examination.”
The judge, however, stated that there was no proof that the two companies affiliated with Elizabeth fraudulently received N2 billion worth of Bank PHB shares.
Okunnu said, “Nothing was proved beyond reasonable doubt that she silently or knowingly endorsed the perpetuation of fraud. Rather, it was the first defendant (Atuche). On account of this, the prosecution failed to prove its case of stealing against the second defendant (Elizabeth).”
Atuche’s trial began in 2009 after the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), under the leadership of Sanusi Lamido, declared Bank PHB as distressed.
The EFCC initially declared him wanted over an alleged fraud of N56 billion, after which he was detained at the Ikoyi office of the commission for interrogation.
Although EFCC later arraigned the trio for their involvement in N25.7 billion fraud, a Lagos high court freed Atuche of the criminal charge against him in June 2015.
In August 2015, the EFCC filed an appeal seeking an order setting aside the earlier judgment and also sought for a continuation of trial.