14th June, 2011
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, has accused Justice Adeniyi Onigbanjo, the trial judge in the ongoing theft charge against the former Managing Director of Bank PHB Plc, Mr Francis Atuche, of bias.
In a petition dated 8 June 2011, the anti-graft agency requested the Chief Judge of Lagos State, Justice Inumidun Akande to re-assign the case to another judge within the Criminal Division of the court as it no longer has faith in the ability of the judge to deliver justice on the matter.
Atuche was arraigned on 17 May with the two former directors of the bank before Onigbanjo on a three-count charge of conspiracy and stealing but was later granted bail by the judge in the two separate charges after pleading not guilty.
The petition which was signed on behalf of EFCC by Messrs Kemi Pinheiro, Dele Adeshina and Sebastine Hon, alleged that the judge had made comments that touched and pertained to the substantive suit.
The commission claimed that Onigbanjo in his ruling on Atucheâ€™s application for bail on 25 May held that there were similarities between the charges the former bank chief was facing before him and at the Federal High Court.
A part of the petition reads: “in reaching its decision in the aforesaid ruling, the honourable judge proceeded to make comments that touched and pertained to the substantive suit.
“The prosecuting authority is extremely perplexed and disturbed by these statements and believes that these comments give an inclination to the courtâ€™s mind in respect of the substantive charges.â€
The EFCC claimed that the judgeâ€™s comments might have inadvertently prejudged the substantive charge and pending applications to dismiss the charge filed by Atuche.
“In view of the disturbing comments, our clients have lost confidence in the ability of the judge to hold the scale of justice in the pending charge,â€ it added.
When the matter came up for hearing before Onigbanjo today, Pinheiro asked the court to adjourn the matter pending when they receive a reply from the chief judge on the issues raised.
Pinheiro added that the prosecution had served the said letter on the defence counsel who were yet to reply.
The matter was adjourned till 22 June for mention.
Meanwhile, Atuche on Tuesday asked an Ikeja High Court dismiss a fresh 27-count charge bordering on conspiracy to commit felony and stealing preferred against him by the EFCC.
Atuche in a preliminary notice of objection filed his counsel, Mr Ricky Tarfa, told the court presided over by Justice Lateefat Okunnu that the fresh charges amounted to an abuse of court process.
ByÂ Henry Ojelu