Atuche, others ask court to dismiss N25.7b theft charge

A former Managing Director of Bank PHB, Francis Atuche, and his wife, Elizabeth, on Wednesday asked an Ikeja High Court to dismiss the N25.7 billion theft charge preferred against them.
The Atuches made the request in a No-Case Submission application filed by their counsel, Chief Anthony Idigbe (SAN).
They were charged to court alongside a former Chief Financial Officer of the Bank, Ugo Anyanwu, by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
The accused persons are facing a 27-count charge, bordering on conspiracy and stealing, before Justice Lateefat Okunnu.
Moving the application, Idigbe asked the court to dismiss the charges or discharge his clients for lack of any case to answer.
He said the 12 witnesses called by the prosecution could not link the second accused (Elizabeth) to any act of conspiracy or stealing in their testimonies before the court.
Idigbe said: “If Your Lordship looks at the evidence before the court with respect to the second accused, Your Lordship will find that there is no evidence linking her to the charge.
“The only evidence is that she is a shareholder in Gazali Yakubu Investment Limited and the wife of a bank managing director.”
He also maintained that Atuche had no case to answer due to the contradictions made by some of the prosecution witnesses during the trial.
He added: “One witness said hoax loans were granted.
“The other said they were regular loans.
“It is the burden of the prosecution to provide explanation for these contradictions.”
Idigbe said the charges against the accused persons were duplicated, adding that it had further questioned the credibility of their case.
He further argued that the evidence and testimonies of the prosecution witnesses were circumstantial and had no direct link to the former bank chief.
Idigbe also queried the EFCC for failing to produce a vital witness, Peter Ololo, the owner of Petosan Oil and Gas Limited, to testify in court.
According to him, another witness, Elizabeth Ebi, also admitted that there was an oral agreement between her and the bank before loans were granted to her companies.
“We respectfully submit that these are sufficient grounds for a no-case submission and we are urging the court to discharge the first and second accused,” Idigbe said.
Moving a similar application, Anyanwu’s counsel, Sylva Ogwuemor, urged the court to discharge his client as there was no sufficient evidence to warrant him standing trial.
Ogwuemor said: “There is no evidence to support the charge of stealing because the third accused did not benefit from the transactions.
“His only offence was signing papers and sending e-mails, which were his legitimate duty as the chief financial officer of the bank.”
However, the EFCC counsel, Kemi Pinheiro (SAN), opposed both applications and urged the court to overrule them.
Pinheiro said the prosecution had provided potent, cogent and forensic evidence detailing the role of all the accused persons in the transactions.
He said Atuche’s wife owned 80 per cent of Gazali Yakubu shares and was also a majority shareholder in Afco Associate Limited, which received some of the stolen money.
Pinheiro further said Anyanwu’s claim that he did not benefit from the transactions was not sufficient to exonerate him from the charges.
“I urge Your Lordship to call upon the defence to proffer their explanations, if they so desire,” he said.
The court fixed July 1 for ruling on the applications.