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Alleged N25.7b theft: Judge assures Atuche of fair trial

By on October 23, 2013
Francis Atuche, former PHB CEO on trial for Grand Embezzlement

Francis Atuche, former PHB CEO on trial for Grand Embezzlement

Justice Lateefat Okunnu of an Ikeja High Court on Wednesday assured the former Managing Director of Bank PHB, Mr Francis Atuche, of a fair trial.

Okunnu gave the assurance following the claim by Atuche’s counsel, Chief Anthony Idigbe (SAN) and Mr Tayo Oyetibo (SAN), that their client was not being given fair trial.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Atuche and his wife, Elizabeth, are standing trial for allegedly stealing N25.7 billion belonging to Bank PHB (now Keystone Bank).

They were charged the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), alongside a former Chief Financial Officer of the bank, Mr Ugo Anyanwu.

During Wednesday’s proceedings, Oyetibo complained that the EFCC was creating an impression that Okunnu would convict the defendants.

The counsel said that the commission had, on Oct. 22, asked Justice Sarah Ofili-Ajumogobia of a Federal High Court, Lagos, where the defendants are also being prosecuted, to excuse herself from the matter.

“The impression being created by the prosecution is worrisome.

“At the Federal High Court, the judge had excused herself because they told the court that she would not jail the defendants,” he said.

On his part, Idigbe faulted Okunnu for awarding N10,000 cost each against himself and Oyetibo, for their absence in court on Oct. 3.

According to him, both lawyers had formerly writing to the court, giving reasons for their absence, hence there was no need to award the cost.

He sought the leave of the court to appeal against the order at the Court of Appeal and to stay execution of the order, pending the decision of the appellate court.

Idigbe also asked Okunnu to excuse herself from the case, alleging that “the court has descended into the arena”.

Counsel to the EFCC, Mr Kemi Pinheiro (SAN), did not oppose the application.

In her ruling, Okunnu granted Idigbe’s application, but refused to excuse herself from hearing the case.

The judge said that the situation at the Federal High Court had no bearing on the matter before her.

“I am oblivious of whatever is going on outside this court,” she insisted.

NAN reports that the court admitted some documents as exhibits, which were subpoenaed from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and Mortgages PHB Ltd.

Okunnu also ordered the EFCC and Keystone Bank to produce some documents relating to the charge, which was in their custody, before the court on Oct. 25. (NAN)