5th August, 2010
There is no reprieve yet for the former managing director/chief executive officer of Platinum Habib Bank (Bank PHB Plc), Mr. Francis Atuche, as a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos, South West Nigeria has adjourned the continuation of his trial till 19 October this year.
The adjournment was necessitated by the appeal the accused banker field against the ruling of the court refusing to quash the criminal charges filed against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
Aside this, the trial of Atuche along side his co-accused, a former director of the bank, Charles Ojo, is to start afresh, as the presiding trial judge, Justice Akinjide Ajakaiye, has retired. The case file has to be re-assigned to another judge for trial to continue.
Sometime in September last year, Atuche, then the Managing Director of Bank PHB Plc and Ojo, who was a director of the bank, were arraigned before the court, initially on a 26-count criminal charge for alleged banking and financial crimes.
While in custody, his counsel filed bail application on his behalf. In the accompanied affidavit sworn to by his wife, Elizabeth Atuche, the deponent urged the court to grant him bail as she volunteered to stand as surety. She also averred that her husband needed medical attention due to his complicated spinal heamatoma.
However, in a counter affidavit sworn to by a detective of the anti-graft agency, Nqunah Kakwagh, he urged the court not to grant Atuche bail as the evidence gathered by his team(Kakwagh) against himÂ was overwhelming and he (Atunshe) may likely escape from the jurisdiction of the court if granted bail.
In the ruling for bail application, the two bankers were granted bail with stringent conditions.
On 11 December, 2009 , based on alleged further investigations and revelation, the anti-graft agency filed an amended charge consisting of 45 count criminal charges to replace the former charges
While x-raying the new amended charge that is still pending before the court, EFCC alleged that Atuche and Ojo as the then chief executive officer and director of the bank respectively and others at large on or about 1September, 2006 recklessly granted credit facilities amounting to about N46 billion to companies,Â without adequate security contrary to accepted banking practice and norms. It was also alleged that investigation revealed that the two accused bankers had interest in some of the companies they granted loan indiscriminately.
Such companies include Platinum Capital Limited, Future View Financial Services, Petosan Oil and Gas Limited, Inadjek Nigeria Limited, Extra Oil Limited and Guestraden company.
It was also alleged that Atuche as theÂ then chief executive officer ofÂ the bank was accused among other offences of failing to take necessaryÂ steps to ensure the correctness of June 2009 Bank PHB monthly returns to the Central Bank of Nigeria.
He was accused of collaborating with about 18 companies to conceal the source of N4 billion used by him to acquire the shares of the bank which formed the bankâ€™s depositorâ€™s funds. The companies were alleged to have been used as fronts to conceal the proceeds of unlawful loan.
The alleged unlawful acts of the two accused bankers were said to be contrary to and punishable under sections of the money laundering act and financial institution acts.
The court has also dismissed Atucheâ€™s application to reverse an order of temporary forfeiture of his assets, freezing of his identified accounts granted to EFCC as the court held that he failed to put before the court the date he acquired the properties, their value and his earnings as at the date the properties were acquired.