7th September, 2011
Embattled former managing director of Bank PHB, Mr. Francis Atuche Tuesday lost his bid to stop his trial as Justice Lateefa Okunnu of the Lagos High Court, Ikeja dismissed his application asking the court to disqualify itself from his trial.
Atuche had on 12 July asked Justice Lateefa Okunnu to disqualify herself from his (Atuche) ongoing trial before the court.
In the application, Atuche, through his counsel, Chief Anthony Idigbe, SAN, accused the judge of being biased, asking that in the alternative, the matter be transferred to another judge.
â€œWe donâ€™t need to prove that the court is indeed biased. What we are saying is that looking at the facts from the perspective of a third party, this court has shown likelihood of bias. We are not here to say that the court is biased, but looking at the proceedings, the first accused does not feel that his constitutional right to an impartial hearing is protected,â€ he said.
He alluded to the fact that when Atuche was arraigned, he had objected to the charges but the judge decided to enter a â€œnot guiltyâ€ plea for him, while the court also decided to hear Atucheâ€™s preliminary objection, in which he had challenged the courtâ€™s jurisdiction to entertain the matter before his bail application was heard.
According to him, the judge had also imposed a fresh bail condition on Atuche, when he was eventually granted bail despite earlier being granted bail by the same High Court presided over by Justice Adeniyi Onigbanjo on terms given to him at the Federal High Court in Lagos.
But ruling on the application, Justice Okunnu dismissed the allegation of bias as lacking merit and urged the 1st defendant not to hold the 2nd and 3rd defendants to ransom.
The trial judge equally refused Atucheâ€™s application for stay of proceedings on the ground that the Lagos State Criminal Justice law does not give room for such application.
Justice Okunnu consequently adjourned proceedings till October 12, 14 and 18 for continuation of trial, and urged the prosecution to be ready to present its witnesses.
In a related development, hearing in the case of stealing involving the former managing director of FinBank Plc, Mr. Okey Nwosu and three others continued with the prosecution calling its second witness, Bisola Ojo, who was cross-examined by the defence counsel. In her testimony, she stated that she was not in the best position to state the condition under which loans were advanced to the 1st , 2nd and 3rd accused persons.
Further hearing has been adjourned till October 26 and 27.
Nwosu, alongside Messrs Dayo Famoroti, Danjuma Ocholi and Mrs. Agnes Ebubedike, are facing charges of stealing N10.9 billion preferred against them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.