By Abdulwahid Aliyu
A three-man panel of the Court of Appeal, Lagos Division, on Thursday, upheld the conviction of a former Managing Director of the defunct Bank PHB Plc, Francis Atuche, as well as the bank’s former Chief Financial Officer, Ugo Anyanwu.
Mr Atuche and his co-convict, Mr Anyanwu, had approached the appellate court to set aside their conviction by Justice Lateefa Okunnu of the Lagos State High Court sitting in Ikeja, Lagos on June 16, 2021 over a N25.7 billion fraud.
A statement by the spokesperson for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Wilson Uwujaren, said the panel, comprising Justices Sadiq Umar, Adebukola Banjoko and Kayode Bada resolved all the issues in the appeal in favour of the commission, except the sentencing.
According to the statement, the panel also clarified that Mr Atuche’s jail term was 12 years concurrently, rather than 120 years, handed down by the lower court, if calculated consecutively.
Also, the panel reduced Mr Anyanwu’s jail term from 10 years to eight years and affirmed the discharge and acquittal of Mr Atuche’s wife, Elizabeth.
In an abridged ruling read by Justice Umar, the three-man panel upheld the EFCC’s arguments and unanimously dismissed the appeal.
It would be recalled that in 2021, Justice Okunnu, while sentencing Messrs Atuche and Anyanwu, had upheld the arguments of the prosecution counsel, Kemi Pinheiro, SAN.
About three years after their arraignment by the EFCC in 2011, they had approached the Court of Appeal, to challenge their trial by the lower court for lack of jurisdiction.
But in a judgment delivered in September 2016, the court ordered Justice Okunnu to hands-off the trial, but did not quash the numbers of counts against the defendants.
Consequently, the EFCC approached the Supreme Court to set aside the judgment and order a trial in the matter.
In its judgment, the apex court directed that the case be returned to Justice Okunnu for continuation of trial.
While the trial lasted, Mrs Pinheiro opposed Mr Atuche’s contention that the funds in dispute were loaned and not stolen.
‘They rather contended that the monies granted as loan could be used for whatever purposes.”
The trial court, therefore, sentenced Messrs Atuche and Anyanwu, but acquitted Mr Atuche’s wife.